Why Suns didn't win Game 1

April, 20, 2008

Even in New Orleans, all anyone was talking about on Saturday was that epic opener between the Spurs and Suns. While we were waiting for the start of the Mavs-Hornets game, we managed to catch the crazy ending. It was one of the best games I've ever seen, but like a lot of people, I had some questions about Phoenix's strategy throughout the afternoon.

In particular, three things stood out to me:

• Mike D'Antoni made a mistake a lot of coaches make: He acted like the end of the second quarter doesn't matter. D'Antoni went ultraconservative by yanking Amare Stoudemire with 2:42 left in the first half and inserting Brian Skinner, even though Stoudemire had only two fouls. While Amare watched, San Antonio closed the half with a 9-3 run to cut the lead from 14 to eight. He finished regulation time with only four fouls.

• Phoenix's final play of regulation was a screen-and-roll with Steve Nash and … Boris Diaw? Huh? Was Stoudemire abducted by aliens during the timeout? A few of us media types watched this part of the game in the Dallas locker room with a couple of the Mavs, and they were just as puzzled as I was. San Antonio defended it well and forced a shot under duress by Leandro Barbosa, but how do you not involve your best offensive weapon on the game's most critical possession?

• Finally, the Tim Duncan 3-pointer. Everyone says this was the worst shot San Antonio could have taken, but this isn't true: The worst "shot" the Spurs could have taken was two free throws. The reason they didn't take them was because the Suns chose not to foul them. Perhaps that's because D'Antoni left Shaquille O'Neal on the floor, and he had five fouls … and like most other players in that situation, Shaq wasn't particularly anxious to give up his sixth, even though doing so would have pretty much ended the game. So when Manu Ginobili drove the lane and came within easy fouling distance, Shaq opted to stay in front of him and let the play go on. And that's how Timmy came to be so wide open up top for his unlikely game-tying triple.

Ultimately, maybe none of this will matter. Phoenix still has three more chances to take a game in San Antonio and still has a great shot at winning the series. But for a franchise with a 40-year history of being as snakebit as the Suns seem to be, it has to give them a weird feeling of deja vu. Because as much as the Spurs took this game, you also get the sense that Phoenix helped give it to them.


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