All game the Phoenix Suns (18-39) fought the surge of the San Antonio Spurs (45-13) for most of the game. Every time it seemed like they were out of it they got a few stops to keep themselves in the game.
That would have allowed the Suns to get back in the game, but a dismal second quarter showing was too much to overcome as they dropped their sixth straight against the Spurs and their ninth in eleven games so far in the month of February as a team.
The end result was another lopsided effort with the Suns losing 97-87.
First Half Review
Coming into the game there was hope against the leagues best team with their leading scorer and assist man Tony Parker out nursing an injury. Early on the Suns made it a dog fight forcing turnovers and playing quality defense. After the first quarter there was a feeling that they could steal one with the lethargic and disinterested Spurs playing on a back-to-back.
Then the second quarter started.
Kendall Marshall started the quarter, per normal rotations under interim head coach Lindsey Hunter. The problem was that Goran Dragic took the offense to the bench with him. For the first 3:23 of the second quarter the Suns were held scoreless as Spurs ran off a 14-0 run.
The first seven possessions of the second quarter consisted of three turnovers and four missed shots.
That same time window for the Spurs resulted in three makes, two trips to the free-throw line, one miss, and one turnover. Those are the pitfalls that have quelled the team all season as one quarter ends up as the death nail for the team, no matter the effort in the other three. As a team the Spurs did a good job of forcing seven turnovers that quarter disjointing the Suns offense. The lead ballooned to 14 points at the half.
Second Half Review
Until the first few minutes of the fourth quarter the Suns kept the game within striking distance of 12-16 points. They did not let the game get out of hand, but they were not playing at a level where you got the feeling another patented comeback was in the works.
The most revealing moment of the game came when Hunter subbed in Diante Garrett in place of Marshall as has been the norm through his 15 games as the head man. Garrett got on the court and played well with despite what the box score reads. He made plays for others and got into the paint off of the bounce. It was a fresh look compared to the known entity that is Dragic and Marshall.
Eventually the Spurs pulled away and took this game by despite the absence of their leader, playing on a back-to-back, and having nothing to get up for. That is what great teams do.
Goran Dragic finished with 11 assists, his fourth straight game with 10+ assists the longest stretch of his career
Shannon Brown was a DNP Coaches Decision, his fourth straight
The team scored under 90 points for the 15th time this season. Last time they had that many in a full season, the 2003-2004 season (23 total)
What was once the hottest ticket in town has become more of a laugher over the past three years. Throughout the 2000's the Phoenix Suns (18-38) and the San Antonio Spurs (44-13) had some classic battles for playoff positioning and in the Western Conference Playoffs searching for a title.
The steady drop in the standings over the past three seasons has been one sided as the Suns have not made the Playoffs in three years while the Spurs have won 155 games and counting as serious contenders.
When did the rivalry end?
Other than this year the Suns had Steve Nash as the architect and assistants in Grant Hill, Channing Frye, and Amare Stoudemire to help. Since then they have all left on their own accord going to contending teams (insert Lakers joke here) deciding to not go down with the sinking ship.
The way these two franchises are run seem to be polar opposites. That is not a knock on the Suns front office, but rather a knock on the consistency that the team has not had over the past five years which has been the reason for the downfall.
In the past five seasons alone the Suns have had three different head coaches, three different acting general managers, and a roster turnover from title contenders to lottery odds watchers.
In that same span the Spurs have had one coach, one general manager, the same core roster, and remarkable consistency as a franchise. A model to study and learn from if there ever was one. The results over the past three seasons tell the story.
(Recent) History Lesson
This season the teams have met once and it was a close game until (TP) eviscerated the Suns (11 points 4 assists) in the fourth quarter. He finished with 31 points and 7 assists for the game, but the show he put on late was a display of one of many stark differences between the two teams this season.
Head-to-Head (past four seasons including Playoffs)
Suns: 105.3 PPG (7 wins)
Spurs: 106.1 PPG (9 wins)
That is a little deceiving as the Spurs have dominated the Suns over the past three seasons going 8-1 against them, but were 1-6 during the 2009-2010 season. That was the season where the Suns got redemption against their then rivals with a playoffs sweep and a trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Duncan vs. Suns: 22.5 PPG 12.5 RPG 3.2 APG 2.5 BPG 55.3 FG% (84 games)
Gortat vs. Spurs: 13.0 PPG 9.8 RPG 1.3 BPG 50.5 FG% (10 games)
If you want to call Duncan old here are his numbers in the last four seasons (14 games) 20.6 PPG 11.0 RPG 2.5 APG 2.1 RPG and 61.5 FG%. He is not aging half bad. Over that span he was 33, 34, 35, and now 35 years old.
The younger, more athletic center has been schooled for the most part by the veteran as Gortat has played well in three games career against the Spurs and floundered in the other seven. He is 28 years old today.
Suns Bench vs. Spurs Bench
At one point in the season the Suns had the second best bench units in the NBA scoring nearly 40 points per game, only bested by the Los Angeles Clippers. Since then it has been a rapid decline with inconsistent minutes for each player resulting in erratic results nightly.
On the other hand the Spurs have been very consistent all season scoring 38.5 PPG as a unit taking the pressure off of the starters. Each unit balances one another out for the best team in the league.
The play of Manu Ginobili is the primary reason why they get that production off of the bench, but they have a plethora of depth with shooters, finishers, play-makers, and guys who know their role in the system. The Suns have depth as well, but nobody knows their role and when the bench comes in it becomes a free-for-all.
Interesting Stat: 13
The Spurs have scored 100+ against the Suns in 13 straight games. That is unlikely to change as they average 104.4 PPG and have netted 100+ in 38 out of 57 so far this season. Even without Parker for three games this season the Spurs still managed to get over 100 in each game averaging 105 PPG going 2-1 without their star.
Meaningless Stat: 23 Points
Those 23 fourth quarter points by Dragic against the Spurs are a distant memory, but they are also the career outlier his him against them. In the other 69 quarters for the Suns and the Houston Rockets he has scored a total of 110 points. That is 1.6 points per quarter.