West Conf. Semi Preview (Suns-Spurs)
Suns (2) vs. Spurs (3):
- Highly anticipated series. Right now looking like the marquee 2nd round series, possibly with the winner having the fast track to hoisting the Larry O' Trophy.
- The Spurs are one of the best defensive rebounding teams while the Suns are only better than one team (Raps) in off. rebounding. So if the Suns can't score on their initial off. possession, it will be pretty much one & done. People usually point to the fact that the Suns' defense is lacking, which is not entirely true--they scramble well on the perimeter, but lack much in the interior--but their lack of rebounding probably does not get mentioned enough. (Here is a piece on the importance of rebounding & how it relates to the Suns)
-And the Spurs defend them in the half-court as well as any team. Expect to see Bowen on Nash quite a bit, and look for the Spurs to try to push Nash toward the sidelines coming off pick/rolls. And when the Suns try to get rolls to the basket off the pick/roll, the Spurs usually rotate on the backline very well to contest shots near the rim. San Antoino's transition defense might the best in the NBA, and it's something Pop drills into their head constantly. And they almost always do a good job limiting the Suns' fast break when they play.
- When playing the Suns it is very important to get them off the 3pt. line. Something we here at the Painted Area have been stressing since last year's playoffs. (check here) My rough guide for defending the Suns is trying to limit them to no more than 15 attempts from long-range, which averages to about 6 makes (Suns shoot 40% from 3pt). The Spurs consistently defend the 3pt. line vs. the Suns as well as anyone, and it is one of the key reasons they have been successful vs. Phoenix the last few years.
- You have to chase the Phoenix shooters off the line, and force them into long-jumpers off the dribble. Again, here at the Paint Area we have put forth the concept that you want the Suns taking 2-pointers as much as possible (check here). Give them looks in the 8 foot to 21 foot range as much as possible. Even if you have to sacrifice some easy looks in 2-point range, just get them off the 3pt. line. Give Diaw room on that 18-footer, same with Amare. You want to entice Diaw into long jumpers because it ain't his strength. Force Bell & Barbosa into mid-range shots as much as possible.
- What helps the Spurs' cause even more, Parker always seems to play well vs. the Suns, same with Manu. Tony's penetration is very hard for Nash & the Suns to contain and then the subpar interior defense lets him finish rather easily. Another positive sign for the Spurs are their wily veterans are looking spry lately. Mike Finley was superb vs. the Nugs, Big Shot Bob seems to have a little bit more gas left in the tank than last year, and even Oberto has given them great hustle in limited minutes.
- Said this earlier but bears repeating, an underrated key in this series for the Suns is Kurt Thomas. Here's a paragraph on Kurt that sums up his importance vs. the Spurs taken from my Spurs-Suns piece from April:
"On the other side defensively, Kurt Thomas was huge. He would not let Tim even get into his moves; his strength, good balance & positioning frustrated Duncan. The difference between his defense & Amare's or Diaw's was jarring. The dropoff was huge & noticable when Kurt left the game. I felt Thomas should have been starting instead of Diaw even when Diaw came back from injury because I think it gets Thomas involved early in the game. Also, I think Diaw works better off the bench because he's not really meshed with Amare operating in the high post a lot. Kurt brings the two things that are crucial to the Suns--rebounding & solid post/interior defense. These two factors have been the ultimate downfall of the Suns the last 2 years."
And it was interesting to see how well Nene defended Duncan in the 1st round. The guys that have defended Tim the best lately (Nene & Kurt) used their strength to not allow him to get into his moves easily.
- I think the talk that Thomas hurts them offensively is overrated. The Suns can still run with Thomas on the floor and he can act as a very effective trailer to stop & pop from 15 feet. Not too mention he brings that mid-range jumper in the Suns' half-court sets in the many pick/rolls they run.
- If Amare wants to make truly impactful statement in this year's playoffs, it's not so much trying to repeat his '05 performance, it will be on defense. If he can guard Duncan even halfway solid, he could make the need to play Kurt Thomas heavy minutes moot. This is a big if, because Amare's effort & concentration are not always up to snuff, but the physical tools are there for him to do a good defensive job.
- If the Suns can consistently hit their mid-range jumpers (Spurs will encourage the Suns into these shots), then they have a great shot at winning this series. But they must also try to keep the rebound margin respectable. And maybe most important of all, just play half-way decent interior defense. Not asking for them to be great, just servicable. Something I have been stressing all year, and basically for 2 years--the Suns' interior defense is extremely shaky & lacks size. And the Spurs have done a magnificant job of exposing it not just with Duncan, but with Parker's penetration as well.
- To me, this series comes down to the fact that the Spurs just matchup well with the Suns. All the things that make the Suns so dangerous, the Spurs know how to contain as well as any team. And the major deficiencies that the Suns have--interior defense & rebounding--the Spurs can really expose.
SPURS IN 6
M. Haubs' pick:
I had Spurs in 5 at the start of the playoffs and I'm sticking with it - I think they know exactly how to play the Suns.