Suns-Spurs Playoff War 2008 – by Dr. Dime
Were you among the masses who thought the race to the playoffs in the West this year was one of the most exciting you have ever seen? Get ready for Playoffs 2008! The NBA is about to hit an all new level of excitement and fan uptake. Some of the greatest playoff battles in history have occurred in the Western Conference over the past few years; however the great thing about Playoffs 2008 is that this time they will happen as early as the first round. Personally I have already ear-marked one series in particular to rise above the rest. Offense vs. Defense, Speed vs. Grind, Loose vs. Tight, Wants vs. Haves, Suns fans may even say Good vs. Evil. Yes that’s right; we are talking about another seemingly unavoidable playoff war between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs.
There are four critical elements in this series that will play a huge role for either team if they want to avoid a first round exit from the playoffs. The keys to this series as referenced in the title are: only one team can move on (them or us mentality), the Spurs will undoubtedly have to double Amare Stoudemire to slow him down, Shaq’s presence in the paint will grant the Suns perimeter player’s wide-open looks from the 3-pt line, and both teams will have to stay focused defensively for 48 minutes a game to get the necessary 4 wins.
The Suns have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Spurs in three of their last four post-season appearances. Add to that fact that the Suns elimination last year and the controversy surrounding it, must still be weighing on the Suns players. You remember the Game 1 loss Suns fans will attribute to the referee removal of Steve Nash, due to excessive bleeding, with a minute to go and only a 2-pt deficit. How about the last minute Game 4 body check of Nash by Robert Horry of the Spurs, leading to the suspension of Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw. Many Suns fans thought that those incidents coupled with some other controversial plays, muddied the Spurs eventual victory over the Suns.
This year there is one slight difference of course. Well not so slight really, The Diesel: Shaquille O’Neal. This is exactly the scenario Steve Kerr envisioned when he made the blockbuster trade of Shawn Marion for O’Neal (albeit Kerr probably didn’t envision a first round match-up). It’s hard to believe one of these championship contenders will be eliminated from the post-season in the first round. As we saw in the final two meetings of the season for these clubs, having Shaq in the paint to rebound and play defense on Tim Duncan proved to be the decisive factor in the Suns victories. With that being said, I thought an even larger ‘Shaq factor’ in the Suns victories was the defensive presence of Shaq in slowing the continual slashing to the rim of both Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. When Ginobili and Parker are settling for more jump shots than drives, the Spurs go from being a mediocre offensive team to a downright abysmal offensive team. Although most analysts consider the Suns to be an offensive team, and the Spurs to be a defensive team, it will have to be an effective Suns defense that wins them this series, and conversely an effective Spurs offense.
Keys to Suns defense:
- It has been fairly obvious in the Suns-Spurs match-ups to date that Steve Nash cannot guard Tony Parker off the bounce. Mike D’Antoni is smart enough to most likely switch to some sort of zone defense, or have Nash pick up Bruce Bowen on defense and let Raja Bell or Leandro Barbosa pick up Parker.
- Shaq and Amare have to pack in the lane and force San Antonio to shoot jumpers. This will also force Tim Duncan away from his money shot (the short banker) and into some sort of dribble/back down move he has proven uncomfortable with against the big fella.
- Match physical play with physical play.
- Close out defensive stops by securing the rebound. It’s not enough to force a miss, the key to the fast break for the Suns lies in their ability to either close out defensive rebounds or force steals and turnovers.
Keys to the Spurs Offense:
- Play small ball with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen, and Michael Finley on the floor as much as possible. Bowen and Finley’s ability to stretch the defense will create more slashing lanes for Ginobili and Parker. Even some frequent appearances from Brent Barry and Matt Bonner
- If you choose to double team someone, make it Amare Stoudemire. If you haven’t noticed, Amare when playing with Shaq rarely has been getting double teamed. When he does I rarely ever see him throw a dump pass to an open Shaq for an easy dunk. Instead he gets And 1 after And 1 against help side defenders who only half commit away from Shaq and give some ticky-tack foul. Greg Popovich should recognize this and instruct his players to double team hard on Amare and test his passing ability. From what I have seen this year his passing ability has been fairly suspect.
- The Spurs already conduct the half court inside-outside game running through Duncan to perfection. What most analysts will say is for the Spurs to slow the ball down whenever possible to play Spurs tempo of basketball. Problem is defensively the Suns want the Spurs to play half court on offense. This gives their new big man time to get back on defense and clog the paint, and the rest of the team time to set up their defensive zone coverage. My recommendation would be for the Spurs guards to push the ball like the Suns do at every opportunity. Then do their best to play transition defense (something they are tops in the league at)
There are many unanswered questions that come to mind that will eventually determine the outcome of this first round heavy weight bout: Can Shaq stay out of foul trouble? Do the Spurs double team Shaq or Amare? Can the Suns supporting cast shoot well from beyond the arc? Do the Suns once again buckle under the physical play of the Spurs or does Shaq bring that added confidence and toughness to turn the tables in their favour? Lucky for NBA fans everywhere the answers will be revealed shortly, some as early as Saturday @ 3pm ET, on ABC.
Dr. Dime’s Prediction on this sure to be classic: Suns in 6 games (you saw it here first).
Get ready for another war…but this time the Suns tanks are powered by Diesel!