Sunday, May 9, 2010
Phoenix Suns advance to the Western Conference Finals
SAN ANTONIO -- Steve Nash's right eye was swollen shut. He had six stitches beneath a bandage on his eyebrow, while the purplish lump was darkening another shade.
And that fourth quarter?
"I couldn't see anything," Nash said.
One good eye was plenty.
Nash scored 10 of his 20 points while his eye gradually shut more and more in the fourth, and the Phoenix Suns swept the San Antonio Spurs from the Western Conference semifinals with a 107-101 win Sunday night. It was long-awaited redemption for the Suns, who had been booted from the playoff by the Spurs four times since 2003.
"That was ugly," Suns forward Channing Frye said walking off the court.
He wasn't talking about Nash's eye, though it would've fit. Nash was accidentally struck by one of Tim Duncan's elbows in the third quarter and briefly went to the locker room.
Nash came back with an ice pack on his eye when he finally returned to the court. Even then, it wasn't back into the game right away -- first he lay on the court with the ice still on his head.
"He looked like Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini," Suns forward Grant Hill said. "It forced him to focus 'cuz he was shooting out of one eye."
It was reminiscent of the 2007 West semifinals, when Nash had his nose sliced open when he and Tony Parker collided head-to-head in Game 1. The gash in Nash's nose bled profusely, and the Suns went on to lose the series.
Not this time.
"Obviously I'm very sad and very mad that we lost, but at the same time I'm happy for Nash and [Amare] Stoudemire," Parker said. "Because every year they played hard against us and it never went their way. This year, it went their way."
Stoudemire led the Suns with 29 points. He is the only Suns player who was on each of those Spurs-ousted teams over the last seven years, but rather than rejoice, Stoudemire coolly walked off the court.
The Suns still have work to do.
They'll either play the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz in the West finals. The Lakers lead that series 3-0, and no team in NBA playoff history has ever come back from that deficit to win.
Add these Spurs to that list.
"We thought from our past experience that we could do some things to control the series, but they just outplayed us," Duncan said. "All in all, they just outplayed us."
The Suns are keeping one of the more remarkable stories of the playoffs going. Three months after Phoenix was on the brink of trading Stoudemire and calling it a season, the Suns are returning to the West finals for the first time since 2006.
General manager Steve Kerr has said it would've taken an offer "really good for us to break up the team," and good thing it never came along.
Phoenix sealed its third trip to the West finals since 2005, and gets another crack at returning to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
Parker scored 22 points to lead the Spurs, who were swept out of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. It was an abrupt ending for the Spurs, who will have a summer to chew on some uncomfortable questions facing the winningest franchise of the last 13 years.
Any season that doesn't end with a ring is a failure for the four-time champions. The three years since their last title is in an eternity in San Antonio and, as been the case since the 2007 Finals, time isn't on the side of their aging core.
Manu Ginobili, who will be 33 next season, signed a three-year extension in March. Duncan will be 35 when his contract is up in 2012. But could the Spurs part with Parker, who enters the summer with an expiring deal and a cheaper replacement behind him in Hill?
Back at the All-Star break, it was the Suns who were thinking about the future when a Stoudemire trade seemed imminent. The Suns instead kept the team together, and Stoudemire got to enjoy Phoenix beating the Spurs in the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
"It feels great, but the past is the past," Nash said. "It's definitely rewarding to beat the Spurs. For me personally, it feels great. I have a tremendous amount of respect for this franchise."