Rarely, if ever, has Steve Nash been so badly outclassed in a game. It wasn't just the 41 points, 12 assists and five rebounds that his Spurs counterpart, Tony Parker (right), registered. It was how fatigued and totally out of sync Nash looked throughout the game, which he finished with only seven points and nine assists. The dual strain of trying to stay in front of Parker, who appears quicker than ever, and, on the other end, trying to pry himself loose from the tentacles of all-league defender Bruce Bowen, is taking its toll. Don't forget that the Suns need Nash to score, not just distribute. He is Phoenix's most reliable shooter, but he didn't even get off a three-point attempt.
As for Parker, it's hard to imagine a better performance by an offensive-minded point guard. "He's not known for making jump shots, but he was in a rhythmn tonight and he shot them," said Suns center Shaquille O'Neal. Actually, Parker has hurt them in the recent past with his mid-range shooting. But, yes, this was something special. "He set the tone tonight offensively with his ability to get into the paint and take advantage of the way they were playing him," said small forward Bruce Bowen. Added backup guard Brent Barry: "They were trying to keep him out of the lane but he was making every shot he took. And when he does that you just kind of look at your coach, shrug your shoulders and say there's really nothing we could do."
It didn't help Phoenix, of course, that its high pick-and-roll defense, never a strength, was horrible.
But it wasn't all Parker. One of the things that Phoenix wanted to accomplish was, in the words of assistant coach Alvin Gentry, "make one of their big three at least mediocre." They were anything but. Tim Duncan, relentlessly solid, had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and Manu Ginobili, playing 28 minutes, had 20 points. Collectively, Parker-Duncan-Ginobili made 33-of-52 shots and missed only 2-of-15 free throws.
As of Thursday afternoon, before Game 3, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni had all but decided not to play Grant Hill, because he had been largely ineffective in Games 1 and 2 due to the effects of groin and lower abdominal strains. But during lunch, D'Antoni got a call from the Suns' medical people who told him that Hill could go, which left him with a dilemma: Start Hill and perhaps risk another shaky performance, or start Leandro Barbosa and risk the thought that he was panicking by tinkering with the starting lineup this late in the season. He chose the latter, the right decision, and Barbosa responded with his best game of the playoffs (20 points). Coming off the bench, Hill again looked tentative with six points in 19 minutes.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had hinted after Game 2 that he would no longer employ the Hack-a-Shaq strategy. Cue laugh track. He went to it on four occasions, and it worked like a charm. Not only did O'Neal miss six of the eight free throws, but the successful stratagem also appeared to demoralize Phoenix, as well as O'Neal, who twice committed lane violations on the attempts.
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