The San Antonio Spurs flexed their muscles yet again as the team with the best NBA record eased their way passed the Phoenix Suns 97-87 Sunday night.
Don’t be fooled. This game was not even close despite what the score might indicate. San Antonio persistently exhibited their reputation as one of the most methodical teams in basketball. While no Spurs player had an astounding outing, the team reinforced their team-first mentality with six players scoring double digits in the victory. Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Perhaps the most disconcerting reality for Phoenix was that all of this transpired without the aid of their team’s top scorer and highest-rated NBA point guard in Tony Parker. Jared Dudley explained that the Suns have severely struggled as of late on the offensive end of the court.
“When it comes to offensively, we’re just in a bad place right now,” Dudley said on Twitter.
Considering Parker (triceps) sat out due to injury, Goran Dragic was ideally positioned to supplement his three double-doubles. Since the All-Star break, Dragic has put up double figures in both points and assists in the previous three games at the Portland Trail Blazers, at the Golden State Warriors and vs. the Boston Celtics.
According to the Suns Twitter feed, head coach Lindsey Hunter gave no excuses for Phoenix to hold back vs. the Spurs in Parker’s absence.
“I don’t want to hear that. It doesn’t matter,” Hunter explained. “They’re like plug and play. Next guy in. They don’t miss a beat.”
In spite of the three traveling violations, Phoenix closed the opening period with a narrow 21-19 lead. Dragic continued to demonstrate exceptional vision early with six first-quarter assists. Marcin Gortat likewise started off strong, leading both teams with eight points. The Suns showcased a significantly higher amount of effort compared to their dreadful performance against the Celtics. Still, the question has relentlessly been would the Suns inept, duplicitous personality reveal itself as the game progressed?
Regrettably for Phoenix, this was undoubtedly the case as the Suns lead quickly dwindled by the beginning of the subsequent quarter. San Antonio displayed their dominance early in the second with an explosive 14-0 run. In fact, the Suns did not score their first point until 8:37 to go in the first half. By then, it was too late. The Spurs had seized a commanding 54-40 lead following the halftime buzzer.
Heading into the second half, the Spurs had shot 53 percent from the field, 81 percent from the foul line as well as 43 percent from the 3-point line. Phoenix contrarily shot 41 percent from field goal range, 60 percent from the free throw line, and went 0-3 from 3-pointer. San Antonio had 11 assists, one block, four fast break points, 18 rebounds and four steals. The Suns conversely accounted for 13 assists, four blocks, five fast break points, 19 rebounds and seven steals. Both teams recorded 10 turnovers.
By the end of the third, the Suns had to be thinking down 78-61, “Where’s the diabolical Freddy Krueger conjuring up this ‘Nightmare on Suns Street’?” The fact that a crazy guy with razor claws didn’t show up might have been the only silver lining in tonight’s matchup for Phoenix.
With 9:10 to go in the fourth, the climax of this horror story came when the former Suns forward Boris Diaw executed the slowest fast break turnaround in league history. By the end of the game, only two Suns players had relevant outputs to mention. Gortat led the Suns with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Dragic finished the night with 10 points and 11 assists, barely adding his fourth-straight double-double.
The Spurs finished shooting 44 percent from the field, 80 percent from the foul line and 29 percent from the 3-point line. Phoenix, on the other hand, shot 37 percent from field goal range, 73 percent from the free throw line and 33 percent from 3-pointer. San Antonio totaled 22 assists, five blocks, 16 fast break points, 36 rebounds, 10 steals and 17 turnovers. The Suns had 24 assists, eight blocks, eight fast break points, 47 rebounds, 11 steals and 20 turnovers.
Hunter said the biggest turning point in this game was the costly turnovers, saying, “I think our effort was much better. We fought. Just too many turnovers.”
Yet it’s hard to imagine turnovers being the sole issue with this Suns roster, especially seeing as how both Phoenix and San Antonio had transparently similar turnover ratios. Nevertheless, Hunter has continued to stress that the Suns will not stifle in terms of effort and optimism.
“We’re going to continue to work and stay positive. But we’ll still demand excellence from our guys,” Hunter added.