Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash (13), of Canada, tries to keep control of the ball as San Antonio Spurs' Tony Parker (9) gives chase in the 4th quarter in game 3 of the Westerns conference finals in San Antonio, Saturday, May 28, 2005.
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
SAN ANTONIO Their offense already was clicking. Now the San Antonio Spurs have their defense cranked up, too, and that might leave the Phoenix Suns out of ways to beat them.
Eliminating the fast break, denying the paint and running at 3-point shooters, Tim Duncan and the Spurs dismantled everything the Suns tried for most of Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, turning their superb defense into a 102-92 victory Saturday night that puts them on the brink of reaching the championship round.
San Antonio allowed a measly 10 points in the second quarter and just 39 in the first half. Phoenix ended up being held under 106 points for the first time this postseason well under reminding everyone of the Spurs who've had the league's stingiest defense the last two seasons, not the club that outscored the Suns by averaging 116 in the first two games.
''I think the guys realized again who they are,'' San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.
The Spurs lead the series 3-0, and no team ever rallied from that deficit to win a series in the NBA playoffs. Phoenix seems pretty unlikely to change it. As if the young Suns weren't already dazed by the first two losses, coach Mike D'Antoni admitted his team ''got rattled and really played in a frenzy.''
''We haven't found a way to stop them yet,'' said Phoenix's Steve Nash, whose streak of four straight games with 25 points and 10 assists came crashing down with 20 and three. He also committed six turnovers.
''There was a stretch there in the second quarter when we couldn't make any plays, couldn't get any momentum and we put our heads down. That made it impossible for us to come back in the second half.''
The Suns did make a late charge, getting within six twice in the final minute. But Phoenix was forced to foul to stop the clock and get the ball back, and the Spurs thwarted the play with Duncan and Manu Ginobili going 6-of-6 from the foul line.
Duncan led San Antonio with 33 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. A mediocre foul shooter most of his career, he was perfect on 15 attempts and hit several tough baskets down the stretch to slow the Suns' final rally. An appreciative crowd responded by standing and chanting ''M-V-P!'' during his final four free throws.
Tony Parker had 18 points and seven assists and Ginobili had 18 points and seven rebounds, including the final one, which he cradled while time ran out on San Antonio's fifth straight victory and 44th in 48 home games this season.
''As great as we were, we think we can play better,'' Duncan said.
Game 4 is Monday night. The Suns can send the series back to Phoenix with a win. If the Spurs win, they'll be headed to the Finals for the second time in three years and third time in seven. San Antonio won titles in 1999 and 2003.
''Not one guy is going to give up,'' D'Antoni said. ''Nobody wants to be swept.''
Amare Stoudemire led the Suns with 34 points, but it was his lowest in seven games this season against the Spurs. He scored 16 in the fourth quarter, helping Phoenix make sure it went down fighting.
Joe Johnson was solid in his first game since breaking a bone near his left eye May 11, hitting his first two shots and scoring 15 points. He was 6-of-14, including 2-of-3 on 3-pointers.
''Other than not winning, I had a great time,'' he said. ''I got winded, but (the mask) didn't really bother me.''
Johnson's return was supposed to make Nash more effective, but that was hardly the case.
Frustrated by the way San Antonio packed the lane and detonated their pick-and-roll, Nash had no assists in the first quarter, one in the second and none in the third.
His exasperation was evident with 4:04 left, when he dribbled into the lane, ran into three Spurs and looked for help. None of his teammates were open and he wound up traveling, leading to a stream of expletives and the exasperated look he wore all night.
Feeding off the energy of their home crowd, San Antonio hit seven of its first eight shots and again led by 11 in the first quarter, as it did the first two games.
The Spurs were up by nine at the start of the second, but gave the Suns a chance to get back into the game and the series by not making a basket for nearly the first seven minutes of the second quarter.
Phoenix wasted it. The Suns missed their first six shots and had trimmed only three points off the lead when San Antonio snapped out of its funk.
Ginobili turned a steal into an uncontested dunk, starting a 13-2 run that stretched the Spurs' lead to 17 at halftime.
The Suns missed their final seven shots going into the half, sealing their lowest-scoring first half of the season. The 10 points in the second quarter matched its worst period.
Notes: Phoenix's streak of triple-digit playoff games ended at 12. It was the longest since the Boston Celtics had 22 in a row in 1987. ... The Suns have trailed by at least nine after the first quarter of every game. ... Johnson's third shot missed, but San Antonio's Brent Barry knocked it in off the glass while trying to rebound it. ... Spurs F Robert Horry played his 190th postseason game, tying Magic Johnson for fifth place. With four more games, he'll take over third place.
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