April 30, 2008
Fast Breaks: Spurs-Suns
By Jack McCallum
Game 5   Leaders
Spurs win series 4-1   Points Rebounds Assists
92 87
• One-on-one comparisons never tell the whole story, but a meaningful snapshot of this series can be taken by aiming the camera at the point guard position. The Spurs' Tony Parker (pictured) scored 148 points in four games, dished off 35 assists and hit countless key shots, none bigger than a 16-foot jumper in the lane that gave San Antonio an 88-85 lead with 29.8 seconds left. The Suns' Steve Nash, on the other hand, scored just 81 points and had just four more assists than Parker in the series even though the offense runs through him most of the time.

Well, not in Game 5. Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni wanted to exploit small forward Boris Diaw's size advantage and went inside constantly to the Frenchman, who finished with 22 points and was unstoppable all night. But not controlling the ball in the high pick-and-roll offense seemed to affect Nash, who made only 4-of-16 shots (including 1-of-6 three-pointers) and finished with 11 points, 20 fewer than Parker.And now Parker will have to amp it up again against another tough quarterback, Chris Paul, in Round 2 against the New Orleans Hornets.

"We went 2-2 with them during the season," said Parker, "so we have a lot of work to do, and it's going to be tough."

• There are countless examples of the Spurs' unselfishness but none better than backup forward Rob Horry. Three years ago Horry was a serious rotation guy. His clutch shot in Game 5 of the 2005 Finals kept the Spurs alive and was, in retrospect, the biggest basket of that championship season. But in this first-round series he was reduced to coming off the bench as one of the hackers in coach Gregg Popovich's Hack-a-Shaq strategy (see below). But late in the game, with the score tied at 85, there was Horry on the floor, tapping the ball away from Nash on a possession that could've given the Suns the lead.

It was one of the little things the Spurs did that kept them alive. (In the Suns' locker room after the game, Nash talked to the team about how those little things separated the defending champions from the Suns.) It also helped keep alive an incredible streak: In his 17 years in the league, Horry's teams have never failed to make it at least into the second round.

• There is little doubt that the NBA's competition committee will have to do something about the unsightly practice of Hack-a-Shaq used to an absurd degree by the Spurs in this series. Yes, Shaquille O'Neal, or any NBA player, should be able to stand at a line 15 feet from the basket and make, say, six of 10 shots. But the spectacle of one team inserting a player into a game to deliberately grab another and send him to the free-throw line -- Popovich did it five times to O'Neal and twice to backup center Brian Skinner in the first half alone Tuesday night -- is a rhythm-disturbing stratagem that should have no place in the game.

The situation is roughly comparable to what happened 54 years ago when excessive fouling and stalling led to the implementation of the 24-second shot clock. No, this isn't exactly the same thing. But the NBA has always been quick to change rules that keep the game fresh. And getting rid of this tactic, perhaps by giving the shooting team the ball back, is overdue.

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