San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan slam dunks against Phoenix Suns' Quentin Richardson, left and Steven Hunter as Spurs' Rasho Nesterovic looks on during Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at America West Arena in Phoenix on Sunday, May 22, 2005.
AP Photo/San Antonio Express-New
PHOENIX Although they're still known for defense, the San Antonio Spurs might soon start convincing people to respect their offense, too.
They certainly proved it Sunday to the scoring experts in Phoenix.
With Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Brent Barry leading the way, the Spurs outscored the league's top offensive team down the stretch, beating the Suns 121-114 in the opener of the Western Conference finals.
The first playoff series featuring the league's highest-scoring offense against the stingiest defense was supposed to be a contrast of styles, but San Antonio turned the tables instead. Coach Gregg Popovich has been saying that his team's scoring ability was underrated and they wasted no time proving it.
Despite ankle problems, Duncan helped the Spurs score 30 points in the first quarter and 55 in the first half. Even when their 11-point lead turned into an 8-point deficit in the third quarter when things looked to be falling in place for Phoenix San Antonio answered with an 11-0 run. They sealed it by scoring 43 points in the fourth quarter.
Barry, often left wide open, put the Spurs ahead for good with a jumper that made it 94-92, then hit consecutive 3-pointers that stretched the lead to 106-98 with 4:08 to play. Even with all their offensive firepower, the Suns couldn't recover, disappointing the locals who were attending their first conference finals game since 1993.
Parker scored 29, Duncan had 28 points and 15 rebounds and Barry added 21 while making 8-of-12 shots.
Manu Ginobili had 20 points, six rebounds and five assists as the Spurs claimed home-court advantage, which could be significant since they're the league's best at home this season. Game 2 is Tuesday night in Phoenix.
Amare Stoudemire continued his dominance of the Spurs with 41 points and MVP Steve Nash had 29 points and 13 assists, but the Suns lacked their scoring balance.
San Antonio clamped down on Shawn Marion (1-of-6, 3 points) and decided not to worry much about Quentin Richardson (3-for-9, 7 points).
The Suns tried shaking things up by using three big men more than ever, going with seven-footer Steven Hunter on the front line alongside Stoudemire, moving Marion to small forward and going with two guards.
Hunter had nine points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes, matching his most of the season, but the bigger defense didn't bother the Spurs.
San Antonio is now 3-1 against Phoenix this season, with their only loss coming in a game that Duncan and Ginobili missed with injuries. The Spurs also improved to 34-2 when scoring at least 100; they've done it in six of their nine playoff wins.
Yet the Spurs did it without losing the tenacious defense that's helped them hold foes to the lowest scoring average each of the last two seasons.
Phoenix missed 10 straight shots in the first quarter and scored just 20 in the period, matching a postseason low set way back in the second quarter of Game 1 in the first round.
Stoudemire nearly match-ed that himself with 18 points in the second quarter after getting just two points in the first.
The Suns went from down by six at halftime to up by six midway through the third quarter. After San Antonio tied it at 74, Phoenix scored eight in a row for its biggest lead of the game.
The Suns seemed ready to crack things open as the spurt included Marion's first basket and Richardson's first 3-pointer.
It ended up being Marion's only basket and Richardson's only 3-pointer.
Nash, coming off a phenomenal series against Dallas, was a mediocre 12-of-22. Stoudemire was 13-of-21 and needed 16 minutes before his first powerful dunk. During the season, Stoudemire averaged 38.7 against the Spurs, the most ever by one player.
Phoenix's offense could be juiced up in Game 2 if it can get back guard Joe Johnson from an eye injury. However, coach Mike D'Antoni said he doesn't expect it.
Notes: Spurs F Glenn Robinson missed the game because of a death in his family. He also may miss Game 2. ... Ginboli's banked-in buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter was shot from beyond midcourt, between the C and A in the word ''America'' painted on the floor. ... Predictably, the Suns' Gorilla mascot KO'd the Spurs' Coyote during a humorous bout contested on stilts. ... San Antonio opened a playoff series on the road for just the second time in seven years. The other was the 2002 conference finals, which they lost in five games against the Lakers.
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