Thursday, May 17, 2007

Barbosa's First Taste Has Been Bitter

As I watched Barbosa struggle again tonight (and boy did the Suns need him), I began thinking about a reason why he has regressed so much in this series. And I think the answer is pretty simple: this is his first go round with the Spurs as a key contributor. In 2005, Barbosa was on the Phoenix roster, but he played just 15 total minutes in the five-game series (and that was with Joe Johnson injured for most of it).

Now the Brazilian Blur is being counted on for big minutes and even bigger production. And the poor guy just can't buy a basket. In 159 minutes played, Barbosa is now 22-for-61 in the series after hitting just three of 12 shots tonight in 33 foul-plagued minutes. Yikes.

But when you think about it, this isn't all that surprising, as Barbosa and Diaw are really the only key Suns players that haven't been through this before. Yes, they both were able to shine in last year's playoffs, but they didn't have to play the Spurs. The Lakers, Clippers, and Mavericks weren't exactly challenging shots like San Antonio. And while Kurt Thomas wasn't with Phoenix then, he's been through plenty of battles in his day, including an NBA Finals showdown with the Spurs in 1999. Raja Bell also had some experiencing jousting with the Spurs from back when he was with Dallas (plus, you could argue that his real trial by fire was last year's Lakers series, since guarding Kobe is the hardest thing he has to do in a playoff situation). And Marion, Amare, and Nash obviously already went through this in 2005.

So that leaves Diaw and Leandro as the only guys that haven't really been forged in the San Antonio fire. And Diaw has been out of sorts all year, so Phoenix doesn't even really rely on him any more. Barbosa though has been a huge key. And now he's getting his first taste of a grueling series with the title favorite Spurs.

The results have not been pretty, but it isn't altogether surprising either. Most guys struggle in their first series against the Spurs, just as players back in the late 80's struggled the first time they went against the Pistons. Teams that are extremely tough - and yes, possibly dirty - defensively make it really tough on a young, offensive-minded player during the first go round.

I expect Barbosa to fare far better the next time around. But the "next time around" will mean Nash is at least a year older and that the Marion/Amare situation (not to mention the luxury tax problem) is probably worse, or will have imploded. In other words, Phoenix really could have used the Next Evolution Barbosa in the here and now. In a strange way, Dallas beating the Spurs last year (and preventing Leandro from getting a Spurs matchup "out of his system") might be costing the Suns a title this year. I may be way off on that, but it seems plausible. And if so, how ironic is that?

(I'd just like to note that I had every intention of including an Arrested Development "taste for mammal blood" joke in the title, but couldn't summon the strength. As Norman Mailer once said, there is a toll on a human mind that is awake to see the clock turn 3 a.m. too many times. And it's 2:33, so I'm closing up shop.)


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Jey said...

As a long time Suns fan and arm chair analyst, I've been trying to think of what has been wrong with Barbosa in this series. We could both be wrong, but I think you nailed it.

And think of his overall confidence against the Spurs. He wasn't good enough to play the Spurs in 2005, so he doesn't know that he's good enough now.

Anonymous said...

As someone who grew up in Brazil, I suggest another factor, based on family systems.

As a part of the playoffs, Barbosa has family here for the games. The pressure is at a whole different level with so many loved ones around 24/7.

Adam Hoff said...

Interesting. Do we know whether his family was here for the Lakers series? If they were, then that doesn't really hold up. I'm growing more and more fond of this Spurs Trial By Fire thing. Especially, as Jey pointed out, because he might also have a more specific confidence issue knowing that he couldn't get on the court against them the last time. Also, the Spurs drafted him and then traded him. I doubt it goes that deep, but there is plenty of stuff that could be swimming around in his head.

Anonymous said...

I don't buy it. Though the playoffs are played at another level, Barbosa has played the Spurs many times in the regular season, and even done well. I think the Spurs are just a damn good defensive team, and they generally shut out somebody if not multiple people in a game. One specific thing I see them doing is fouling a driving player with their knees while everyone is looking for fouls from the waist up. They really excel at this when two defenders knee you from each side. This doesn't explain his problem with the three pointer but I'm sure it affects his overall confidence to not be able to make layups.

srp said...

I agree completely. In fact I made this exact point to someone this morning.

LB is a great young talent but he likely will never be a superstar like Amare b/c he doens't have that "it" thing. He's such a nice kids so he's not going to be able to play made like Bell and well...he will get better in years to come.

I also think that against the Jazz he will be back to his old self :)

j said...

The Spurs drafted then traded LB but they drafted him at the Sun's request. I'm not sure of all the details of the deal but the Suns engineered a deal with the Spurs on draft-day that included them drafting LB.