As the First Round Series That Could Be The Conference Final moves to Phoenix on Friday night, two obvious questions present themselves:
• Can the Suns come back?
• Is the Spurs'
Both are easily answerable. Yes and no, respectively.
Of course the Suns, as bad as they've looked at times, can come back. What, they've never won two in a row at home?
And as much as the one-coach-is-beating-the-other-coach theory has been advanced, it is far too simplistic to see the first two games of this series, both San Antonio wins, as a victory for Popovich's brain over D'Antoni's.
This storyline of so-and-so outcoached somebody else has been overblown, as it usually is. Sure, it happens. It's a good bet that, say,
Cases in point. In Game 1, Popovich set up two potential game-tying three-point shots.
From the other perspective, it's a safe guess that D'Antoni didn't go to his ace sixth man,
Now, having said all that, the Suns obviously have to do a few things differently in a must-win Game 3. Counting on a change of venue alone will not do it.
The obvious place to begin is on defense, considering the Suns have surrendered an astonishing 128 points in the paint in the first two games. But I'm not going to begin there. Yes, the defense has been deficient, but remember that
I didn't say out of the game -- I said off the ball. The strain of getting Phoenix into its offense with
Now, who to get him the ball, given the fact that Barbosa has been seemingly powerless against the San Antonio defense? Challenge No. 2 is to use
Challenge No. 3 is to get
Playing better in the second half is Challenge No. 5. That sounds so simple -- don't you want to play well in every half? -- but it makes sense to establish it as a priority. The tendency on Friday night will be to come out of the locker room fired up and build a big cushion, something Phoenix did in both of the first two games. Perhaps the Suns were emotionally gassed. Save some energy for the final 24 minutes -- that's when you have to be at your best to beat the Spurs.
Challenge No. 6, the hardest one, is to figure out how to contain Ginobili. Parker and Duncan are the eternal verities of the Spurs, but the left-handed-shooting guard has a way of killing the Suns. Play off him and he hits threes. Crowd him and he gets into the paint, sometimes for a three-point play. Double him and he finds a teammate for an open shot, as he did in Game 2 when he flipped a blind pass to Duncan for a layup that sealed the deal.
So how do you defend him? Hey, if I were that smart, I'd be a coach. And I'd probably be getting outcoached.