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May 7, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Plenty in Reserve

by Bradford Doolittle

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at Phoenix 110, San Antonio 102 (Suns lead 2-0)
Pace: 91.2
Offensive Ratings: Suns 120.6, Spurs 107.4

I finally had a chance to review game two of the Spurs-Suns series this morning and, so far, I am finding this one of the more interesting matchups so far in the postseason. What's captured my attention is the fact that these teams ought to be seemingly so familiar with each other. While the supporting players for both teams have changed over the last few years, the Suns are still led by Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, while the Spurs still rely on Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. The systems the teams run are more or less the same as they've always been, even though Alvin Gentry does some things differently on defense than former Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni. This is the fourth time the Spurs and Suns have met in the playoffs since Nash returned to the Suns for the 2005-06 season. In the three previous meetings, the Spurs ended the Suns' season. Last season, the Suns missed the playoff altogether. Suddenly, after appearing to have run up against the end of their era, not only are the Suns back in the elite of the West, but after winning game two, they are poised to finally clear the formidable hurdle out of San Antonio.

There should be no real surprises left in the Suns-Spurs rivalry. It's not like the Suns have gone young. Nash is 36 years old and he's not even the oldest starter on his team. Yet, the chess match between Phoenix and San Antonio is as lively as ever. In game one, the Spurs opted to focus their defensive attention on Stoudemire and were burned by Nash's 33 points and 10 assists. In game two, they became more aggressive against Nash and limited him to 19 points on 21 possessions and six assists. Yet the final score was almost exactly the same as game one.

The game started out with the pace favoring San Antonio, whose defensive aggressiveness was dictating the action. They were blitzing Nash on the pick-and-roll and doubling Amar'e on post-ups, while clogging the paint and cutting off angles for kick-out passes. Meanwhile, the Suns were focused on removing Ginobili from the proceedings and did so successfully in that they made him more of a playmaker than a scorer. Duncan was dominant early, getting his points as an end result of well-executed plays, not so much pick-and-rolls or post-ups. Then Parker came off the bench to finish the quarter with eight points in 6:47. The Spurs led by nine points after one quarter and had the Suns looking flat-footed.

That changed in a major way in the second quarter. We've written about how the Suns relied more on their bench this season than in the past, and we saw why in that period. Jared Dudley and Lous Amundson were fantastic in the quarter, especially Dudley. The Spurs were pinching him at the three-point line, which is apropos because he evolved into largely a spot-up three-point shooter this season. However, he's got some athleticism as well, which he showcased by aggressively putting the ball on the floor and working on the offensive glass. Dudley had seven points that period; he and Amundson each had three offensive rebounds. The Suns grabbed nine of 18 offensive rebound opportunities overall. The extra chances were crucial. Phoenix shot a .411 eFG% the quarter, but still outscored the Spurs 30-21--the same score by which the Suns were outscored in the first period. Nash played half the period, but took only one shot and had two assists. Channing Frye--who became a huge factor in the second half--knocked down two three-pointers. The Suns' bench had changed the energy of the game and, perhaps, the series.

The third period was mostly a battle of attrition, but the Suns finished on a 9-3 to take a two-point lead into the final period. Frye hit two more threes in the quarter, as his role as a floor-stretching center took on tremendous importance. Matched up with Tim Duncan, who was battling foul problems which limited San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich's ability to keep him on Stoudemire. Against Frye, it was obvious that Duncan just did not want to follow him out to the three-point line. Again and again, Frye made him pay. Finally, down the stretch, Popovich tried to move Duncan over to Grant Hill, but the Suns just spotted up Hill and he knocked down a couple of jumpers. At least at that point, Duncan was only giving up twos rather than threes.

Overall, the Suns held a 31-24 edge in bench points despite the fact that one of San Antonio's big three, Parker, comes off the bench and plays starter's minutes. Frye ended up with 15 points on eight possessions; Dudley had 11 points and four offensive boards. Just imagine what the bench scoring would have looked like if the Suns reserve backcourt of Leandro Barbosa, who looks lost right now, and Goran Dragic had been playing well.

Game three is tonight in San Antonio. Given the chess match going on in this series, well highlighted by Kevin Pelton here, this is going to be a fascinating game to watch. How will the Spurs deal with the Frye factor? Do they soften up their defense on Nash? Can the Suns get another such spirited performance from its bench? What role did foul trouble play in the Spurs' defensive problems in the second half of game two? Can't wait to see what happens next.

SAS          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  25  122.2  .545  .100  .273  .081  6.36
Second Quarter 23   90.6  .432  .364  .091  .173  5.25
Third Quarter  22  112.0  .632  .125  .053  .134  5.41
Fourth Quarter 21  103.9  .500  .111  .375  .142  5.74
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     48  106.8  .489  .238  .182  .126  5.80
SECOND HALF    44  108.0  .571  .118  .200  .138  5.56
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          91  107.4  .525  .184  .190  .132  5.69
======================================================
PHX          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  25   85.5  .357  .267  .286  .204  4.22
Second Quarter 23  129.5  .411  .500  .250  .086  6.66
Third Quarter  22  120.9  .550  .250  .250  .179  4.40
Fourth Quarter 21  151.1  .656  .429  .688  .142  4.98
------------------------------------------------------
FIRST HALF     48  106.8  .388  .394  .265  .147  5.44
SECOND HALF    44  135.6  .597  .250  .444  .161  4.65
------------------------------------------------------
FINAL          91  120.6  .476  .375  .341  .153  5.06
======================================================

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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