Goran Dragic put the Phoenix Suns on his back and single-handedly dismantled the Spurs in tonight’s virtual knockout punch.
Without his 26 second-half points, the Suns would most likely be up 2-1 rather than 3-0. But none of Dragic’s late-game magic would have been possible if it weren’t for Phoenix’s gritty defense, which fueled the Suns’ 32-point turnaround victory.
The first 15 minutes of this game were flat-out ugly for Phoenix. Their rotations were slow and missed assignments were a normal occurrence, leading to wide-open three after wide-open three for Matt Bonner, Manu Ginobili and company.
San Antonio shot 57.7 percent from the field over the first 14 minutes to build its 18-point lead, but right when Tony Parker dropped in a floater to put the Spurs up 39-21 with 8:25 in the second quarter, the lightbulb went on and the Suns put the clamps on San Antonio en route to one of the most impressive playoff comebacks in recent memory.
For the final 32 minutes and 15 seconds of the game, the Suns held Parker and company to 21-of-52 shooting from the floor (40.4 percent). They did a tremendous job forcing the Spurs to become a jump-shooting team, while making Duncan earn his points from the charity stripe (where he went 5-of-13).
As has been the case all series long, the Suns got stops when they needed to. Just as it seemed the Spurs were about to turn this one into a blowout, the Suns turned up the intensity on the defensive end, closing out on shooters, making crisp rotations and forcing Parker, Richard Jefferson and George Hill out of the paint.
The Suns were so effective in their defensive game plan that the trio of Parker, Jefferson and Hill combined for a woeful 7-of-33 from the field. Yes, 7-of-33, as in 21.2 percent.
The biggest worry heading into the series was how the Suns were going to contain Parker and the once red hot George Hill. Who would Nash guard? How would the Suns be able to match up with the Spurs’ supposedly lethal three-guard lineup?
But Phoenix made those concerns a distant memory tonight. George Hill has been a virtual non-factor all series long, and Dragic did a phenomenal job limiting Parker to 2-of-8 shooting over the last 14 minutes of the game. Parker only took six shots outside of the paint (1-of-6), and when he did get to the basket he was met by two or three Suns defenders.
The Suns also slowed down Jefferson, who knifed through the defense for 18 points in Game 2, by forcing him into a mid-range jump shooter — he went 0-of-4 on shots outside of 16 feet. They also kept George Hill out of the lane, as only one of his seven field-goal attempts came inside the paint. Even Ginobili, who was San Antonio’s sole bright spot with 27 points, took 12 of his 17 shots from 16 feet and beyond.
Simply put, the Suns forced the Spurs to be jump shooters, and aside from Ginobili and Bonner, San Antonio wasn’t up to the challenge. Phoenix was once again successful in bottling up at least one of the Spurs’ Big Three, and they even kept The Big Fundamental under 20 points for the first time all series.
Duncan wasn’t much of a factor thanks to some impressive individual defense by Jarron Collins, Channing Frye and Amare Stoudemire, along with a host of double teams from the weak side. He did snare 13 boards, block three shots and get to the line 13 times, but in no way did he kill Phoenix.
It is crazy to call the Suns a defensive team, especially when they knock down 15 threes and go for 110 points. But so many of those points and three-pointers are a direct result of a nice double team, good weakside help or a long Spurs jump shot.
When the Suns can’t get stops, the game slows down and they look mediocre in the half court. But tonight, and for the majority of the series for that matter, the Suns got stops. They made the Spurs beat them from the outside, which was the only formula for an 18-point comeback.
The strategy was successful and thanks to their lock-down defense and the fourth-quarter heroics of Dragic, the Suns are now one win away from ridding themselves of the agony and defeat that has been lingering since 2005.