[Note by Wil Cantrell, 03/27/12 6:24 PM MST ]
Suns fans, I am going to dump the formalities here and get down to brass tacks ... Whereas yesterday I was lost, today I was found ... Yesterday I questioned whether there was a true rivalry between the Spurs and Suns anymore. But today I awoke to sunshine, and an odd, familiar feeling.
IT IS SPRING.
And spring means a couple of things to me, the most important being the Suns usual run at the playoffs. And when I think of the Suns and playoffs many thoughts race through my mind. But inevitably it all fades to black. And silver. Yeah, the Spurs. Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen, Robert Horry, Tony Parker and the ever smug yet somehow brilliant Gregg Poppovich.
Suns fans, you know as well as I do that San Antonio is, was and will continue to be a hated rival and arch nemesis of the Phoenix Suns long into the future. Well after Steve Nash dishes his final NBA assist, Timmeh limps off into the sunset, and Pops slinks off into some dark cave where he belongs.
There is no need to toss out fancy, colorful graphs, and I feel there's no use in dissecting this matchup in order to determine what the Suns need to do in order to win. I don't care about X's and O's tonight. I care about heart and pride. And while most of the present Suns were not on the squads to experience the misery of the early to late 2000s and the complete glee of the 2010 SWEEP, I believe they will understand how big a victory against the Spurs is.
For the 2012 Suns, the season gets no more important than March 27, at home, versus the San Antonio Spurs.
If you aren't jacked up for the game tonight, you may as well burn your Nash jersey and pick up a nice black and silver one with the letters B-O-W-E-N or H-O-R-R-Y etched into the back.
[Note by Wil Cantrell, 03/27/12 6:05 PM MST ]
Tiago Splitter and Stephen Jackson are "doubtful" tonight for the Spurs.
Welcome to part II of the 2012 Epic Pounding The Rock/BSOTS
Q&A. The tables have been turned on Mr. Wilco as I seek to
find out how the Spurs continue their winning ways
while also touching on what could be termed
as one very raw subject.
WC: How do you in the big T feel about the Phoenix Suns? Do you think with all of the recent Spurs domination (exception being THE SWEEP) that there really still is a rivalry?
JR: I have a huge amount of respect for the Suns franchise in general and Steve Nash in particular, and there once was a time when nobody scared me like the Phoenix Suns. When the series between Phoenix and San Antonio ended in 2007, everything after it was a letdown. Maybe not everybody else felt the way that I did but going into that series I really had no idea how the Spurs could win it. I wasn't expecting them to lose I just didn't know how they could win. And once they did, the Jazz and the Cavaliers were mere speed bumps on the way to the championship. I mean that as clearly as I can possibly say it. When the Spurs were done with the Suns they won eight of their next nine games. Talk about anticlimactic!
Then there was the 2008 first-round series which honestly I don't even have the energy to go into right now. Just the first game alone would require at least another 500 words to do it justice. Did you know that the '08 series against you guys was when Manu's ankle was hurt? Did you know that he hasn't been healthy in the postseason since then? Well he hasn't.
And to finally get around to your answer. The definition of a rivalry is something that both teams have the chance to win. And for so long, as you said, it was nothing more than Spurs domination. Then when you guys finally did beat us, it was a sweep and wasn't really competitive at all. Now that would have triggered the beginning of a rivalry if Phx had held up its end of the bargain, and made it to the playoffs again the next year. When you failed to do that, honestly I felt a little like you dropped off the radar. But I'm guessing that all it would take to turn that back on would be one more playoff series between the two teams. You never know though, it could happen with a single intense, playoff-atmosphere, regular-season game.
WC: How in the world have you guys done it? Is Pop that good or what? I haven't watched many Spurs games, but Duncan seems to be on the downward side of his career Manu has had a bunch of injuries as has Parker.
JR: That is the $64 question for sure. And it's one that everybody wants to know the answer to. I guess it's a bit like my question about Steve and his secret to longevity and the mystery of his amazingly high percentage shooting, combined with his utter command of an offense and ability to generate assists out of thin air.
But with Pop I suppose it's way more systemic and a lot less individually spectacular. He somehow has the ability to see matchups and possibilities where no one else does. At the beginning of last year when he converted the team from a defensive juggernaut into an offensive force while de-emphasizing Duncan's role as a low post presence, it was like having owned a Hummer for 10+ years, and leaving the house to go to work one morning and finding a Ferrari parked in your driveway. These things simply do not happen. Jerry Sloan didn't remake the Jazz when he lost Karl Malone and John Stockton. He kept his thumbprint on every aspect of the team and continued to find players who would be able to fit that system until he eventually fell out of touch with DeRon, and decided that he just didn't want to coach
no more. That's the way crotchety old coaches are supposed to behave themselves.
But that's just not Pop. In addition to being an inbounds-play-drawing-up-wizard, he continuously develops schemes to put his players in positions to succeed, regardless of their size or relative talent level. It truly is a wonder to behold, and while watching the game of basketball played well is one of the joys of life -- the truth is that following coach Pop day in, day out throughout the season is just about the most enjoyable part of running my blog.
WC: Who is the biggest unsung hero on the Spurs? Talk about what he does for the team?
JR: Okay now this one is quite difficult because you're asking me to list way too many people on this year's team. If memory serves, we have eight different guys who've led the team in scoring so far this season, and following the Spurs is a nightly situation of wondering who is going to come up big this time. With the way that Pop focuses so much on keeping the team and players well rested, any game could see any player held out for any reason at all. You might've heard that Duncan was listed as a DNP for Sunday's game against Philadelphia with the reason of "Old." Yes, Timmeh was too old to play that night. And that's what the box score actually said.
But if you forced me to name just one guy I suppose I have to say Kawhi Leonard. He is a rookie and he's only 20 years old. But he is one of the main reasons that the Spurs defense is starting to look like something approaching the elite defenses of old San Antonio. His outside shot keeps improving (he was not a very good shooter in college) and his handle is getting pretty decent to the point where he has the green light to grab a rebound and just take off down the court on his own one-man-fast-break, which until recently had only been the bailiwick of Tony Parker. And he's even started to attack the basket after a pump fake at a three pointer, a play that he finished over Serge Ibaka with a monster slam the last time the Spurs played Oklahoma City. His arms are so long and he is so quick that he can guard his man and the passing lane at the same time. He's not quite to Bruce Bowen's level, but he can already do things that Bruce never could and I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up there before too long.
WC: Has Duncan spoken of retirement? Are you all nervous about what happens when he leaves?
JR: There're a number of us who were very, very nervous about what was going to happen at the end of this season when his contract expired. But he put all of those fears to rest pretty quickly at the beginning of the season and I don't know that any Spurs fan who really follows the team closely still has any doubts about him coming back to play next year.
WC: A friend of mine were discussing the Suns "rebuilding." I started thinking about it, and I realized that if you don't clearly "nuke" your team or trade your best player, it's never actually clear when a rebuild takes place. The Suns brass have stated they don't have the stomach to go New Jersey or Cleveland and endure several awful years. How do you think the Spurs ownership views change?
JR: With the addition of Steven Jackson and Boris and with the way Leonard is playing as well as how Tiago Splitter has gotten so comfortable in the Spurs system; the emergence of Danny Green as an streaky all-around threat, it's entirely possible that there will be a smooth transition from the end of the Duncan era into ... well, whatever era's next. I know that you always have to have a star, but Parker is only 29 years old and if there is anything that this year has taught us it is that Tony can be "The Guy" on a contending team.
WC: Bonus question....Many of us still haven't forgotten the Nash/Horry incident.I've never spoken to a Spurs fan about it. Do you think it was dirty? An accident?
Horry body checks Steve Nash (via sunzfan26)
JR: At the time it happened. I thought that Horry had gotten him pretty good, and I was concerned that Nash was in danger of being hurt pretty badly. I don't know how many San Antonio fans feel this way but I have a huge fear of opposing players being hurt while playing against the Spurs. Of course it's inevitable and it happens to every team, but I just have this strange feeling that there will be this huge backlash against the Spurs for some kind of normal basketball play. So that moment really hit on an apprehension that I have always had.
But after some time went by and I watched the replay over a few times, it seemed to me that after Nash landed, he added some additional flailing to the end of his dismount, in order to make the most of it for the refs. (I've seen interviews with Steve where he admitted as much.) While this served to make it appear to be a more flagrant hit than it actually was, of course it also meant that his teammates rose to his defense with more urgency than they would have, had he not sold the foul so well.
Here's the point at which I should reiterate that Horry absolutely fouled him intentionally. But I do not believe that it was done with any intent to injure and I didn't see it as a dirty play then or now. Rob was certainly frustrated, and there's no way he would've done that if the Spurs were about to win the game, but I don't think he was wanting to knock Steve out of the game or series. The way I remember it, is that with that last rebound and pass out to Nash, the game was sewn up for you guys, and Steve was still going streaking down the court to score again. I'm not saying that it was completely indefensible, but certainly understandable, to give a bump in that situation.
I'm probably taking extra time in describing my position on this because I don't want to be misunderstood, but I want to state that I do not condone any attempts to ever foul with the intention to injure other players -- or to foul recklessly to the point that a players are put in dangerous positions needlessly. That said, I don't think that play is an example of that, or of Horry out headhunting, or of some elaborate scheme to get your players suspended from the next game. While all of those kind of Machiavellian conspiracy theories are certainly interesting, and some quite compelling, I just don't see any of them being true.
Stay tuned for the game preview!