Phoenix avoids sweep

Posted: Tuesday, May 31, 2005


  San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) tries to make a shot as Phoenix Suns center Amare Stoudemire (32) defends in the second quarter in game 4 of the Western Conference finals in San Antonio, Monday, May 30, 2005. AP Photo/Eric Gay

San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan (21) tries to make a shot as Phoenix Suns center Amare Stoudemire (32) defends in the second quarter in game 4 of the Western Conference finals in San Antonio, Monday, May 30, 2005.

AP Photo/Eric Gay

SAN ANTONIO — Amare Stoudemire was tired of hearing how Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs were using their experience to teach the young Phoenix Suns a lesson in playoff basketball.

So he showed how much he's learned.

With a tremendous block of a dunk attempt by Duncan, two tough layups, two clutch rebounds and a steal — all in the final 1:28 — Stoudemire prodded the Suns to a 111-106 victory on Monday night that prevented them from being swept in the Western Conference finals.

''Unbelievable,'' Phoenix guard Steve Nash said. ''Even as a teammate, you were just in awe. He was all over the place. He made spectacular plays.''

The most spectacular was going above the rim and rejecting Duncan with 36 seconds left and San Antonio down three. The Spurs did get within one twice in the closing minutes, yet Stoudemire answered both times with driving layups set up by Nash.

''I stepped up,'' said Stoudemire, who scored 11 of his 31 points in the final quarter.

All the victory guarantees is that the Suns will be flying home for Game 5 on Wednesday night instead of to start the offseason. No one is calling this the start of a Boston Red Sox-esque comeback, but it does provide hope for the team that had the league's best record, even if no team in NBA history has ever rallied from an 0-3 deficit.

''I think we can go home and win another one,'' said Phoenix guard Joe Johnson, who was 10-of-15 for 26 points in his second game back from an eye injury that's forced him to wear a protective mask.

Johnson was a big help on defense by pestering Duncan on double-teams. The two-time MVP scored just 15 points, only four in the second half, and played so passively at times that coach Gregg Popovich was yelling at him to be tougher during a fourth-quarter timeout. He responded to that chewing out with a dunk.

Worse yet, Duncan was a wretched 3-for-12 from the free throw line. He went 15-of-15 in Game 3 and was 33-of-36 for the series, but was so off this time that he missed the front rim in the fourth quarter, drawing gasps from the home crowd.

''Just a tough night all around — from the field, from the line, just everything,'' he said.

San Antonio lost for the first time since Game 4 of the last round, ending a five-game winning streak. The Spurs lost at home for only the sixth time in 49 games, and now must wait at least two more days before clinching a trip back to the NBA Finals.

''We are sad, we are angry,'' said Manu Ginobili, who led the Spurs with 28 points. ''But this series continues and we are in great shape. The goal is to go to the Finals, not to sweep them.''

Even if Phoenix doesn't make it all the back, this performance guarantees them of having at least one good memory of the conference finals.

No, make that a great one.

Just like coach Mike D'Antoni had been telling them the last few days, all they had to do was work out a few kinks.

It started with them leading after one quarter, 26-23, something they hadn't done in nine games.

They also got their fast break going again, running for 26 of their first 87 points, many coming on defensive stops that had been so rare the first three games.

They also got 11 points from Shawn Marion, including several in transition and a 3-pointer that capped a game-changing 15-2 run that put Phoenix up by 12, its biggest lead of the series.

Still, it came down to the fourth quarter. And unlike the first two games, when the Suns blew late leads, they refused to buckle.

Stoudemire, who couldn't completely bend his right elbow on Sunday because of an injury in Game 3, was the biggest reason. While the 31 points were his lowest total yet in seven games against San Antonio, this performance showed why many believe he's a future league MVP.

''Right now, I'm just trying to do things I'm capable of doing,'' he said.

Stoudemire had only five rebounds, none in the first half, but he got the last one that mattered, grabbing a miss by Johnson away from Ginobili in the final seconds, preventing the Spurs from getting the ball back down by three.

Instead, Nash ended up getting fouled and made two free throws with 6.2 seconds left to seal the victory, Phoenix's first in six games this season with San Antonio that Duncan played.

Phoenix should've known its longest losing streak since dropping six straight in January might be coming to an end when Quentin Richardson made a 3-pointer for a quick 3-0 lead — modest, yes, but it was the biggest for the Suns in a first quarter thus far and it was their first lead in almost 63 minutes after they had failed to lead in Game 2.

But the Spurs kept them from cracking things open, first with a 13-3 run led by Tony Parker, then a 12-2 spurt. San Antonio also went into halftime with its biggest lead yet, seven points, thanks mostly to Ginobili.

The Suns opened the third with a 12-4 run. Although the Spurs got back within one, Phoenix made 15 of 20 shots in the third quarter.

In the closing minutes, Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry had 3s that got them within one, the last coming with 1:03 left.

Nash had 17 points and 12 assists, more normal numbers for the MVP after having just three assists last game, the only one that wasn't decided in the closing minutes.

Notes: Phoenix beat San Antonio to 100 for the first time this series. ... The Spurs were 11-of-23 from the line. ... Phoenix shot 57 percent from the field. ... Of the 24 teams that have gone down 3-0 in the conference finals, the Suns became the 10th to avoid a sweep. Eight were eliminated the next game and only the 1962 Pistons stretched the series as far as six games.

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