By John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
This series between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs has now become a five-game series. The Suns were able to win the first two games at home and now hold a commanding 2-0 lead. The Spurs must now win four of out of a possible five games to win this series. The Spurs played a good game in Game 2, scoring 102 points, shot 51 percent from the field and accumulating 28 assists. They had a comfortable 11-point lead in the second quarter and appeared ready to steal a game in Phoenix.
However, two things happened to them -- one that was predictable and one that was not. The predictable problem was the Phoenix bench. The Suns have one of the best benches in the NBA and they showed why on Wednesday night. Led by Channing Frye and Jared Dudley, the reserves combined for 31 points. Dudley was a monster on the glass in the second quarter and single-handedly changed the momentum of the game. The energy and intensity that he played with changed the pace of the game and helped the Suns jump back into the contest. Frye also chipped in during the third and fourth quarters with timely 3-point shots that were demoralizing to the Spurs.
The second problem for the Spurs was rebounding. The Suns absolutely pounded the Suns on the glass. They won the rebounding battle 49-37, and killed San Antonio on the offensive boards, 18-7. With the Spurs up by double-digits in the second, Jared Dudley came up with timely offensive rebounds and putbacks for baskets. The Suns present a lot of problems for the Spurs, but rebounding should not be one of them. The Spurs have the height, size and bulk to beat the Suns on the glass, but in Game 2, those things didn't help much.
Game 3 Adjustments
TNT broadcaster and former NBA head coach Doug Collins said during the game that t whoever controls the pick-and-roll game wins the game, and he was absolutely correct. Each of these teams runs a ton of pick-and-rolls. The difference is how much pressure each team puts on the opponent's defense. The Suns won this battle, as their ability to shoot the 3-point shot forces San Antonio to make tough choices. When the Suns run a pick-and-roll with Nash and Stoudemire and Richardson, perimeter shooters like Frye, Grant Hill or Dudley are very difficult to defend. The ability to drive, kick and knock down the 3-point shot can suck the life out of an opponent down the stretch of a game. Opponents have to decide: do I take away the paint of the 3-point shot? The Spurs must be able to defend the pick and roll much better in Game 3 or this will be a short series.
Suns coach Alvin Gentry has done a masterful job of using his talented bench to his advantage. One example of this in Game 2 was playing Frye at the center position in the fourth quarter. Frye pulls Tim Duncan away from the basket because of his 3-point shooting ability, and two good things happen because of this. It makes Duncan come out of the paint and forces him to play perimeter defense. Secondly, it provides more opportunities for Nash, Richardson and Hill to get to the rim much easier.
There are two statistical areas in which the Spurs must improve for Game 3: rebounding and free-throw differential. The Spurs must have an answer on the glass; they got embarrassed in Game 2 on both ends of the floor. They cannot allow the Suns, a weak rebounding team, to outrebound them 18-7 on the offensive boards. Secondly, they must be much more aggressive taking the ball to the basket off of postups and drives. The Suns had 37 free-throw attempts and made 29. The Spurs only had 22 attempts and made 15. This is a direct result of the Suns' offensive rebounds, pick-and-roll offense and their aggressive play from the second quarter on.
The Spurs are getting hurt by their bench. They have their five starters, Tony Parker and nothing else. Their lack of production from their bench makes it tough to give the starters their normal rest. One player that is hurting the Spurs in Matt Bonner. Bonner must make shots and space the floor for coach Gregg Popovich to justify his playing time. Bonner shot 39.0 percent from behind the arc this season. In this series he is currently 0-for-4 from behind the arc. The Spurs will need a contrbution from reserves like Bonner, DeJuan Blair and Keith Bogans in Game 3 in order to win.
Prediction: Spurs win Game 3