Monday, May 07, 2007

Suns-Spurs: Let's Not Call It Yet

Was Game One a major blow to the Suns' title hopes (not to mention Nash's face)? Absolutely. But is the series over? To listen to the mainstream media tell it, this thing is done and over with, which might be just a slight exaggeration.

Look, the Suns are up against it in this matchup. We all know that. It is a minor tragedy that the NBA is too stupid to re-seed after the first round and that this Suns-Spurs series is already happening and there is no doubt that if there is one team Phoenix probably can't beat in a seven-game series, it is San Antonio. But to just call this thing after one game is madness.

For starters, if Phoenix can win Game Two, then the worst case scenario after going to Texas is being down 3-1 back at home. Not ideal, but not the end of the world either. They would have two home games sandwiching the ultimate road challenge to try to close it out. If they leave home with a split, they can't lose the series on the first swing to San Antonio, which means that losing game one is just what it seems like; a 1-0 series deficit and a loss of home court advantage. If Phoenix didn't have home court advantage and lost game one at San Antonio, would they just give up (with a 3/3 home away split the rest of the way, which they have now)? Of course not. All this doomsday talk is more than a little premature.

By my count, there were three major problems for Phoenix (not counting the completely one-sided first half officiating):

1. Steve Nash suffered the cut heard around the world.
2. They couldn't rebound.
3. They couldn't guard Parker or Duncan.

Now, #1 is very unlikely to ever happen again under those exact circumstances, so they've already "fixed" that. And #2 is going to be a problem no matter what and against most teams, so they aren't even really worried about fixing that. That just leaves #3, which will be the difference between winning and losing.

Let's take them one at a time, starting with Duncan. I think too many teams are making the mistake of doubling Duncan and creating open threes for Finley, Horry, Barry, and Ginobili. The best play seems to be putting one disciplined guy on Duncan, making him work to catch the ball where he likes it, and then challenging him to shoot bank shots and fadeaways. This isn't the 2003 Tim Duncan, so we're not likely to see him crushing people from all angles. In fact, even yesterday, in what was his best game in recent memory, he still shot just 50% from the field and 60% from the line. Tony Parker's 32 points were far more efficient than Duncan's 33. It is just that Duncan got free for a few dunks, shot a ton of free throws, and hit a few big shots down the stretch. He came through when it mattered, but wouldn't you live with 12-for-24 most nights?

Phoenix should mix its double teams to keep him guessing but spend most of the time in single-coverage. When they run their primary lineup, Amare should do everything possible to avoid picking up fouls and just stay between Duncan in the basket. If TD hits 6-foot hook shots and 10-foot banks, so be it. But Amare can't afford fouls, because his offense and rebounding are far too valuable to Phoenix. If it looks like the refs are prepared to bone him over again, then the Suns should use Marion and try to steal a few passes, then drop back into a soft defense, daring him to shoot. Let him shoot 30 times! At this point, the worst that can happen is that he goes something like 17-for-30 and finishes with 35-40 points. That sounds like a lot, but to get 30 shots, Duncan would basically have to be the Spurs' entire offensive focus. Just as San Antonio tries to make Nash a pure scorer, so too should Phoenix with Duncan.

The other thing Phoenix needs to do is scrap Boris Diaw from the rotation, unless someone fouls out or can hardly breathe. The guy blows this year. Ever since he came into camp fat, he's been pretty much worthless. And against the Spurs he's particularly worthless because he can't guard anyone and he can't seem to finish plays on offense. D'Antoni should give all Diaw's minutes to a healthy and fresh Kurt Thomas. Not only is Thomas Phoenix's best defender against Duncan (by a mile), he is also a much better finisher than Diaw. Wait, Thomas a finisher? Yes, because finishing a play doesn't just happen at the rim. And the KT speciality is the 15-foot set shot that looks like it is right out of Hoosiers. But that shot is wide open against San Antonio (because they run out so hard at the three-point line) and when Diaw catches there, he just does some stupid spin dribble or makes an extra pass that allows the Spurs' to set up again. Playing Thomas 25-30 minutes will make Phoenix instantly better.

So that brings us to Parker. Part of the reason he was so deadly in Game One was that the Suns were scattered from helping down on Duncan. They gave that up in the fourth quarter, but by then Parker was hot and knocking down even the difficult jumpers. Look, this guy is tough. He's come a long way from a few years ago when he was getting by on pure quickness and couldn't hit a jump shot unless his team was up 15 points. Now he's one of the most important guys in the playoffs and a tough matchup. I get all that. But the Suns can do better. For starters, playing Marion on him was just dumb. I know Marion is "versatile" and all, but he's not quick enough to match Parker's first step and he doesn't have enough experience guarding point guards to know how to defense that high pick and roll or anticipate point guard moves (he normally did fine retreating on Parker's first move, but then would get beat badly on any second move). PLUS, it just naturally pulls him away from the basket and keeps him from being involved in defensive rebounding (he had just six boards, which is insane). So yeah, stupid all the way around. Plus, it ignores the fact that both Bell and Barbosa are pretty well suited to guard Parker. He will still get 20-25, but will have to work harder for it and hit early jumpers.

With just a few subtle changes, the Suns should be able to do a much better job on San Antonio's key guys. It might not change the total Duncan/Parker output, as they should score 55-65 as a duo in every game, but it will change the way they get those points, it will keep Amare on the floor, it will help get Marion involved on the defensive glass, and it will prevent the Spurs from getting wide open threes.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right... Marion looked like crap against Parker in game 2. Why does D'Antoni keep doing that? heh