Phoenix Suns 105, San Antonio Spurs 101 (OT) — O’Neal takes over

Posted by on February 27th, 9:56 pm


When league experts pinpointed Jermaine O’Neal as on his way out following the Suns’ trade to acquire Marcus Morris, it made sense. O’Neal, after all, didn’t fit into what rebuilding Phoenix was attempting to do.

Unlike most of the team, O’Neal isn’t young or even in his prime. He’s 34. He is banged up.

There’s something else that sets the veteran big man apart from his teammates: he’s been an NBA go-to guy before.

It’s an asset the Suns needed and then some for a dramatic, come-from-behind 105-101 win against the vaunted Spurs. Heading into Wednesday night, San Antonio had lost just twice at home and stood atop the Western Conference.

O’Neal’s 22 points and 13 rebounds basically said, “So what?”

Count the former All-Star as the latest to find renewed life in Phoenix in the latter stages of his career. O’Neal had played well off the bench before. Wednesday, however, he became more than a good rebounder and scoring option. He became the Jermaine O’Neal fans remember in his prime.

He even did it against Tim Duncan, who surely remembers when such performances were commonplace while O’Neal was a member of the Indiana Pacers. Before the “Malice at the Palace” and the subsequent suspensions, the Pacers were among the favorites to make the NBA Finals, where the Spurs ended up that season.

O’Neal’s flashback, however, was more than just dredging up his once-routine low-post scoring and cagey rebounding. He showed a veteran’s patience, particularly on the game-saving play at the end of regulation. Having secured a crucial missed free throw, O’Neal had at least two teammates in the backcourt insisting he give up the ball with the precious seconds ticking away.

He ignored them. Instead he scanned the court, looking for a target that would give the Suns more than a prayer at extending the game. He found it in the form of a streaking Wesley Johnson, who wasted no time corralling the pass, turning, squaring up and draining the game-tying trey at the buzzer.

The entire sequence showed patience and  — just as important — a refusal to panic with another close game on the verge of slipping away. Most, if not all, of O’Neal’s teammates would have let it.

O’Neal didn’t. Whether it was his odds-defying assist to end regulation or his hard-fought offensive rebound and putback to give the Suns the three-point lead they needed to pull it out in overtime, Phoenix’s elder statesman proved he’s “been there and done that.”

On a team full of youngsters still learning how to “be there and do that,” O’Neal was just what they needed.

Spurs nearly scoreless in OT

With Wesley Johnson serving as the primary defender on Tony Parker, the Suns blanked the Spurs (0-for-9 FG) from the field in the extra period.

Only one of those attempts came in the paint, with the remaining eight being split evenly between medium and long range.

New Morris sees crunch time

Head coach Lindsey Hunter continued to prove flexible in regards to his end-game lineups, going with recently acquired Marcus Morris in the closing minutes and overtime. Morris, along with emerging Wesley Johnson, teamed with Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat and O’Neal.

Morris provided a key play with just over a minute left in overtime after his defender overplayed him. Rather than settle for a long, open jumper, Morris slashed to the rim. His shot was off, but the attempt had drawn the remaining Spur defenders away from the rim, allowing Gortat to tip in the go-ahead basket.

Gortat and Dragic were the only Suns to log more than 30 minutes in Wednesday’s game.

Dragic continues assist tear

While Dragic is Steve Nash’s undisputed successor, no one was outrageous enough to claim he could duplicate Nash’s numbers or overall effect — except that the Slovenian’s recent assist numbers are looking more and more Nash-like.

His 13 assists on Wednesday marked the fifth time in six games he has logged double-digit assist totals, including an 18-dime outing against Portland.

He also has 13 steals in that span.

Matt Petersen

Matt Petersen has covered sports for websites and publications for six years, and currently works as the Sports Web Editor and sports reporter for The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. Matt lived in the Phoenix Valley until 2009, when school and a wife brought him to Utah. He completed his B.A. in Communications and Journalism at Utah Valley University, going on to be a sports reporter at The Daily Herald in Utah before moving on to his current job. Matt has covered the Suns, Jazz, and Arizona Cardinals as well as NCAA and high school sports throughout his career.


Tags: Goran Dragic · Jermaine O'Neal · Marcus Morris · Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Recap · San Antonio Spurs

42 responses so far ↓

  • 1 bkkkkkkkk // Feb 27, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    This coach really dare to play 2 centers at the same time that you would never see in Gentry. It is so bad that the FO let Lopez go eariler. Last time they did it was to foul out Marc Gasol in Grizzles.

  • 2 arizona_jim // Feb 27, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    Another wasted opportunity by the Suns to improve in the lottery. Suns will be picking leftover meat as usual from the draft while fans will have to endure more years of futile attempts to improve.

  • 3 arizona_jim // Feb 27, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    Another wasted opportunity by the Suns to improve lottery odds. Suns will be picking leftover meat as usual from the draft while fans will have to endure more years of futile attempts to improve.

  • 4 4everis2long // Feb 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    @bkkkkkkkk Excellent point Bkkkkkkk. Gentry was just too conservative to do anything unconventional like playing 2 7 footers together. Props to Hunter for not being afraid to use whatever talent he has on the bench.

  • 5 BoomShakaLuka // Feb 27, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    @arizona_jim I shared that sentiment after the Minnesota game. But for one night, we got to see a fun game. I enjoyed it. Yes, it was the same script right until the 3 minute mark. But Hunter finally went with a big front line (Gortat, O’Neal) and a tall athletic back court (Morris, Johnson) O’Neal was vintage. The lowpost offense is something we sorely need as a franchise, and for a night it. Gortat was playing great defense on Duncan. PJ Tucker did a great job forcing.a.steal late. Marcus Morris looks like he could be a competent scorer given time. I know it’s one game, and the Spurs looked flat, but this was the game of the year. I’m glad I was home to see it tonight.

  • 6 4everis2long // Feb 27, 2013 at 11:50 pm

    Best win of the season by far. O’Neal could be worthy of a 2 year contract especially when Gortat leaves this summer. O’Neal looks incredible. I also think Marcus Morris and Wesley Johnson are both very smart players. Wesley J did a really good job defending Parker in the 4th quarter and overtime. The jumper was great but I was more impressed with his defense as the Spurs were in the bonus and he defended without a lot of fouls. They had to put Johnson on Parker in the 4th quarter because Dragic had 5 fouls. Nice coaching tonight Hunter.
    Yeah it did not improve our lottery chances but I think there is starting NBA caliber players at picks 1-7 so I am not overly concerned as long as we get a top 7 pick. Confidence and learning how to play in tight games is great experience.
    Stone hands Gortat almost blew it when he wasn’t ready for Dragic to pass it to him despite the fact he was wide open at the elbow. He must have been thinking about a woman at the time.
    Anyway great night Suns.

  • 7 BoomShakaLuka // Feb 27, 2013 at 11:53 pm

    For one night, we got to see a fun game. I enjoyed it. Yes, it was the same script right until the 3 minute mark. But Hunter finally went with a big front line (Gortat, O’Neal) and a tall athletic back court (Morris, Johnson) O’Neal was vintage. The lowpost offense is something we sorely need as a franchise, and for tonight it was there. Gortat was playing great defense on Duncan. PJ Tucker did a great job forcing a late turnover. Marcus Morris looks like he could be a competent scorer given time. I know it’s one game, and the Spurs looked flat, but this was the game of the year. I’m glad I was home to see it tonight. I agree with O’Neal getting a two year extension. He does seem to be enjoying his time here as a team captain.

  • 8 JohnDevance // Feb 28, 2013 at 12:52 am

    @4everis2long gortat still has another year on his contract.Hes not going any where unless we trade him

  • 9 Rishmo // Feb 28, 2013 at 12:52 am

    I went to this game and witnessed a miracle! I was one of a few Suns fans there screaming and yelling at the top of my lungs. I think we are only one or two go to scorers away from making the playoffs. We have a very bright future if we can get that Lakers pick along with our own high (top 3) lottery pick. Go Suns!

  • 10 Rishmo // Feb 28, 2013 at 12:53 am

    I went to this game and witnessed a miracle! I was one of a few Suns fans there screaming and yelling at the top of my lungs. I think we are only one or two go to scorers away from making the playoffs. We have a very bright future if we can get that Lakers pick along with our own high (top 3) lottery pick. Go Suns!Read more:

  • 11 bkkkkkkkk // Feb 28, 2013 at 1:08 am

    This game and the previous Grizzles were key. They show that this team can compete provided that someone is playing ONeal’s role to have 2 active centers to do the rebounds and inside scoring. If ONeal leaves this team after the season or next, the FO needs to find someone to do ONeal’s role. Beasley or Morris should be the ideal candidate for that if they are not playing as SF with minimum rebounds and inside scoring. ONeal is listed 6-11 and Beasley/Morris are listed 6-10. Not that far to work as ONeal’s role while Scola is only listed in 6-09. If they cannot take that role in the remaining season with some progress, I will draft some big men to do that roles with one of the lottery picks.
    Obviously the 3 pointers and mid-range scoring are also weak areas as it showed that the worst of 1-14 3 pointers in the previous Hornets game but the inside presence is a higher priority of course.

  • 12 TySun // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:47 am

    It’s just one win but it’s the kind of win that determine the entire team’s mindset for the rest of the season.  This team is just not as bad as their record suggests.  As last night’s game showed, they are one go-to scorer away from being a good team.  Not a great team, but a good team.  This team has plenty of solid role players but without a go-to scorer, the role players are often forced out of their roles which hurts their games and the team.
    I don’t think O’Neal wants to leave the Suns.  The warlocks really seem to work magic, have the best reputation in the NBA for reviving older players and they’ve done a great job with O’Neal this season.

  • 13 IowaPhXfan // Feb 28, 2013 at 8:09 am

    @TySun  You have got to be kidding me….Suns pull out a miraculous win by getting very lucky at end of regulation and then had all the momentum in OT…. we are ONE guy away from being a good team? Seriously? Unless that one guy goes by Lebron or KD I’m gonna have to strongly disagree with you. We are NINETEEN  games under .500. 19!!! To be considered a “good” team I’d say that means we at least would have to be above .500 basketball, right? So ONE go to scorer would make this team at least 20 wins better so far this year…..ummm HUH?
    These are great wins to keep everyone’s morale up through this long season. Winning at SA is extra special and I loved every minute of it. But let’s not get carried away, geez. It’s not like we controlled the game at all, we got to OT by a miracle couple 3′s and rare missed free throw at end of game by SA.
    O’Neal is capable of showing flashback nights of his old self, but he in no way is able to keep that level of play up every game. I think he was pumped up to go against Duncan and show he still belongs. If can’t get up for @SA against one of the all time greats then you misewell retire. But he took the challenge head on and played great.
    Phx is also playing a much bigger lineup these days. Marshall and Dragic are the only guys under 6’5. Putting Dudley or Wes at the 2 and one of the Morris twins at the 3 has made us huge and helped rebounding a ton.
    One interesting stat….we are 9-5 when we have 13 or less 3pt attempts. Reason for this is because we suck at 3′s this year (32.5%, 29th in NBA).
    Hopefully our “big” lineup doesn’t succeed too much….or we’ll play ourselves out of a top 5 pick!
    Go Suns.

  • 14 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 8:34 am

    @IowaPhXfan  @TySun  @SA
     20 wins better would be reversing the tables completely and turning this into a “great” team.  That’s not what TySun was arguing, if I’m understanding correctly.  I guess it depends on your definition of “good,” but I would consider a team a “good” team if they can hover around 5 games over .500.  For the Suns to get there, they’d have to be around a dozen wins better than they are right now.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that one good player is worth somewhere around a dozen wins.  A good player makes those around him better, including other good players.  We have seen how well Goran can play when the talent around him matches (and we see how mediocre he can be when the talent is lacking).  If you could replace the minutes that Shannon Brown (WS/48 0.049), PJ Tucker (WS/48 0.069), and Wesley Johnson (WS/48 -0.023) have played with a guy like Harden, I would be willing to bet the Suns would be 10 wins better.

  • 15 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 8:35 am

     What Suns fan even finds a way to gripe when the Suns beat the Spurs in SA?  Get out of here, hater.

  • 16 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 8:39 am

     I think Gentry was a little too sure of his own intuition to branch out and try new strategies when his methods weren’t working.  A lot of coaches have the mentality that they will tweak something by changing out the parts until it’s fixed.  A lot of coaches have the mentality that they can fix anything that’s broken.  Given Gentry’s desire to acquire guys like Bassy and Beasley and witnessing his in-game coaching decisions over his tenure, it’s pretty clear that Gentry was the latter type of coach.

  • 17 4everis2long // Feb 28, 2013 at 9:23 am

    @JohnDevance I think they will trade him John because he will likely leave with nothing in return the following summer.

  • 18 DBreezy // Feb 28, 2013 at 9:39 am

    @4everis2long Yeah that was a nice save by Johnson on D as Goran picked up a couple of aggression fouls that were stupid when you’re guarding a guy like Parker.  I’m not concerned about the lottery chances, especially at this point in the season.  There will be nights like this where they step up and beat a strong team and there will likely be far more losses often in mind numbing fashion down the stretch.  All in all they probably remain somewhere in the top 5 for the draft is my guess.

  • 19 IowaPhXfan // Feb 28, 2013 at 9:40 am

    @john manhole  @TySun
    I could get on board with this logic. Sorry did some horrible math previously when stated would need to be 20 wins better….only would need 10 more wins to be above .500 right now.
    I almost threw Harden in also when I stated would need a Lebron or KD to improve that much….but I love Harden and agree he would make us close to 10 wins better at this point. Dragic/Harden would be comparable to Lin/Harden….Marcus Morris & Wes J do help with 3pt shooting…lineup I’d like to see is:
    Marcus Morris
    I think it would be a less explosive version of Houston’s lineup….basically 4 guys who can all shoot and slash around 1 big.

  • 20 4everis2long // Feb 28, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Regarding what will make the Suns a playoff contender, IMO it will take at least two things, a power forward who averages at least 9 boards a game who is better than average in defending the low post and an athletic scoring wing who can defend. While Marcus could be a decent small forward, IMO neither of  the twins will ever be an everyday starting power forward because they are probably only 6’8″ without exceptional bulk or athleticism. It is easy to see why Markieff gets in foul trouble defending the low post.
    With Gortat likely to leave this summer we will also have to secure a decent center. If O’Neal is inked to a 2 year deal we can get a young center to grove over the next two seasons. I am impressed with O’Neal in part due to his health and play but more so because he could have been bought out and moved on to a playoff contender but he chose to stick it out and get more playing time in Phoenix. It is that type of character along with confronting Blanks that in my mind makes you a leader who gives the locker room attitude (chip on their shoulder) and confidence. I did not think much of the summer signing of O’Neal due to his history of injuries but I was dead wrong.

  • 21 TySun // Feb 28, 2013 at 10:47 am

    @IowaPhXfan  @john manhole  That’s what I was talking about when I said good but not great.  Add any player that can create his own shots and average around 20 ppg (my definition of a go-to guy) and this team would be hovering around .500 this season and maybe better because all of the Suns’ role players could stick to their roles which is what they do best.

  • 22 bkkkkkkkk // Feb 28, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    The model to simulate is very simple. It is the Spurs and you can be a playoff team for sure. They are basically Tim Duncan + a functional big man (Robinson/Mohammed/McDyee/Tiagor) + (Tony Parker) + bunch of average shooter/players.
    In the suns, Goran Dragic is kind of better than or equivalent to Parker. And right now, Gortat and ONeal are going to be inside presence pair and it seems they are pairing okay so far in this game and the previous Grizzles game. It looks very similar. You will need the two big active tall big men to make this effective. Whenever there are someone miss their shooting, the middle men will do their jobs to battle the rebound and score. If you have good and effective perimeter guy like Giniboli or Jackson, you are a contender instantaneously.

  • 23 ojai1980 // Feb 28, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    From one of their worst games this year (v. Timberwolves), albeit it was a win, to one of their best games of the year (v. The Spurs). And doing this while Gortat struggled from the field. This win was fun, almost as fun as beating the Fakers. I still hope the Suns find a way to get Nerlens Noel in the upcoming draft. Go Suns.

  • 24 4everis2long // Feb 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    @DBreezy I could not agree with ya more DeBreezy. Dragic has to be smarter picking up those fouls against a scrub. I too am not overly concerned with where we draft as it appears we are destined for a top 3-7 spot.

  • 25 4everis2long // Feb 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    @john manhole  @bkkkkkkkk Probably right John about Gentry as he caused me to scream at the TV many nights with his conservative coaching.

  • 26 bkkkkkkkk // Feb 28, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    @john manhole Coach D’Antoni was able to play Stoudemire as Center. Work the pick-n-roll pair with Nash…. plus 3 perimeter shooters (Marion/ Johnson/ Bell/ Richardson/ Barbosa). It was good but Stoudemire didn’t play good defense. It was a success until those guys ask max deal one by one.Coach Gentry twist it little bit by play Stoudemire-Nash combo…. with a streched center-shooter Frye…. plus 2 other perimeter shooters (Richardson/ Dudley/ Barbosa/Dragic). It was Gentry most success, peaked at 2010. That’s all he can do as a coach without other big twist. Then, Gortat is not a good replacement of Stoudemire and premier shooters are gone one by one too.With Nash gone now, pick-n-roll was a history. A successful model should be the spurs type twin centers kind to maximize the best player Dragic as Parker. If Hunter is doing this now, the team is on the right track.

  • 27 TySun // Feb 28, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    @ojai1980  The ESPN website has activated it’s Lottery Mock Draft ap again.  I’ve tried it a few times and mostly they seem to think that the Suns will take Victor Oladipo although Noel is an option depending on how the lottery works out.  And McLemore may be an option too even if the Suns don’t get the 1st pick.  One thing I think they are correct about is that there is no one that is the sure #1 pick this year.  McLemore is most often taken as the #1 pick but, depending which team wins the lottery, Smart and Noel are also projected as #1 picks.  I’d be happy with Oladipo even though he’s not my #1 choice.

  • 28 SkyBill40 // Feb 28, 2013 at 2:59 pm

    I was somewhat hesitant to stand behind the FO on the O’Neal acquisition, but he’s proven to be in far better shape than he was in BOS and has produced for the Suns on the regular. Seeing as how he helped them win against a hated rival and appears to be healthy, it would be nice to see him come back next season. I know that he’s got some family issues to attend to that are of the utmost importance, but I do believe that he can be productive here. The training staff has shown time and again just how good they are at revitalizing players who were thought to be through, but JO just keeps on going.

  • 29 IowaPhXfan // Feb 28, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    @bkkkkkkkk umm what????
    Duncan = Hall of Fame
    Parker = top 5 pg
    Ginobili = One of best 6th men in last 10 yrs, 2-time all star
    “bunch of average shooters” = Green, Bonner, Diaw, Leonard = 4 guys shooting better from 3 than anybody on our TEAM
    All we need to do is replace our team with the Spurs and we’d be good! Simple!+

  • 30 arizona_jim // Feb 28, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    @john manhole Beating the Spurs would have been fantastic if we were in a playoff run but we’re not. There is plenty to gripe about when Suns screw up in improving.
    Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out, loser.

  • 31 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm

     Meh.  Haters gonna hate.  Whiners gonna whine.

  • 32 bkkkkkkkk // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    @IowaPhXfan Disagree.
    ONeal can outplay Duncan. Duncan is also old too.
    Parker and Ginoili look good because their team was nicely built. The case was similar that if Gortat play 10 years with Nash in pick n roll, he is a close to stoudemire too.

  • 33 arizona_jim // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    @john manhole You gonna hate draft night and wish the Suns had a higher draft pick to bring needed talent to the team.

  • 34 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:14 pm

     I would be for JO staying as well, so long as he is willing to sign on at or near the vet min.  I don’t know how “settled” he has become in the Valley, but I would imagine that his family isn’t all that happy about all this moving around from season to season.  I’d bet that a guy who has already made $165M in his career isn’t all that concerned about another big pay day.

  • 35 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:19 pm

     Look at the standings.  The Suns aren’t going to “catch” any of the bottom three teams.  They’re also not all that likely to come out on top of the group of 20-23 win teams (Cleveland, Detroit, Toronto, Philly, New Orleans, and Sacramento).  They’re pretty much locked into the 4-7 range as far as the odds are concerned.  And that’s just the thing… they’re just ODDS.  How many times since the inception of the lottery have the ping-pong balls been picked in order of the odds.  Having a worse record does very little to guarantee a better pick when you’re talking about being 4th worst vs 5th worst.  You have absolutely no ground to stand on.  You just like to whine.

  • 36 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    @IowaPhXfan  @bkkkkkkkk
     I like that plan, Iowa.  Let’s get it done, Babby and Blanks.

  • 37 ojai1980 // Feb 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm

    @TySun, I’m more of the mindset to take Noel, a defensive presence once he returns, re-sign JO if possible, and try to get a wing later in the draft. Defensive bigs are hard to come by in this draft, scoring wings seem to be more available. The Suns aren’t going to fix everything in one draft but they should start with defense and then find their offensive players. Worst case scenario the Suns suck for another year and have a chance at a top pick in what seems to be a loaded 2014 draft. If Noel is available when the Suns pick they should take him. If they can use Gortat and the Fakers pick to move up and get someone who slips out of the top 8, like Shabazz seems to be doing, then go for it. Otherwise, take who was the consensus #1 until he went down with his knee injury. Go Suns.

  • 38 arizona_jim // Feb 28, 2013 at 5:46 pm

    @john manhole Only one team has won top 3 having 6% odds and that was the Bulls last 20 years. This isn’t a deep draft which is why losing record is soooooooo important.

  • 39 john manhole // Feb 28, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    @arizona_jim where does 6% come into this?

  • 40 Rich_Anthony // Mar 1, 2013 at 3:14 am

    VICTOR OLADIPO – get the jersey ready.

  • 41 IowaPhXfan // Mar 1, 2013 at 7:36 am

    @Rich_Anthony I’d take him.

  • 42 Phoenix Suns 105, San Antonio Spurs 101 (OT) — O’Neal takes over | Matt's Master Blog // Mar 6, 2013 at 11:10 am

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