Work in Sports
Suns dethrone defending champion Spurs
Posted: Wednesday May 03, 2000 05:27 PM
PHOENIX (AP) -- Only six weeks after he broke his left ankle, Jason Kidd came back, newly blond and as dynamic as ever, while Tim Duncan sat and watched.
With Kidd running the show again, and Duncan still sidelined with a knee injury, the Phoenix Suns knocked the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs out of the playoffs, 89-78 Tuesday night.
Penny Hardaway and Rodney Rogers, winner of the NBA's Sixth Man Award, scored 23 points apiece as the Suns won the best-of-five series 3-1.
But Kidd was the catalyst.
"Jason was a big difference," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said, "a huge difference. 'Big' doesn't do him justice, and not just because of the emotion. He played his fanny off."
Coach Scott Skiles admitted he felt a little uneasy about Kidd playing, and Kidd knew there were doubters.
"Any time you come back from an injury like this at a pace that I did, there are going to be some people who are nervous or skeptical, who just feel that maybe we should wait a couple of days," Kidd said. "But it was up to me, and I felt great."
Rogers, who also had 10 rebounds, scored eight points and Hardaway seven in the fourth quarter as Phoenix fought off one last San Antonio challenge to advance past the first round for the first time in five years.
The Suns play the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers-Sacramento series in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Spurs became the first defending champion to be eliminated in the first round since the Philadelphia 76ers lost to New Jersey 3-2 in 1984. The 1998 champion Chicago Bulls failed to make the playoffs last season after Michael Jordan's retirement.
David Robinson tried to carry the load with 21 points and 16 rebounds, but he didn't have enough help. Mario Elie was the only other San Antonio player in double figures, with 12.
The Suns' Cliff Robinson missed 10 of his first 12 shots, but made two crucial outside jumpers in the fourth quarter to finish with 10 points.
Kidd started and made his made his first three shots, the last one a 3-pointer, and finished with nine points and 10 assists in 31 minutes.
"When they announced that Jason was going to play, the team went crazy," Hardaway said. "They knew that the fans were going to react in a great way, and they did. I was so happy because I knew he was going to make my job a lot easier."
Duncan, a free agent at the end of the season, might have played his last game for San Antonio. He didn't play at all in the series because of a slight ligament tear in his left knee. Duncan practiced Monday, but decided Tuesday the leg was too sore.
The Spurs were down to 10 players, and only one power forward, after Malik Rose left with a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee with 4:07 left in the first half and the Suns leading 31-28.
Without Duncan, Rose, and Jerome Kersey, who dislocated his foot in Game 2, Samaki Walker was the only power forward left for the Spurs, and he drew his fourth foul a minute into the third quarter. That left Sean Elliott at the power forward spot, and he got his fourth foul with 7:42 left in the third.
It was that kind of season for the Spurs, who went most of the way without Elliott, who made a remarkable comeback after a kidney transplant.
"We didn't have a healthy team all season, and nobody ever gave us a chance," Elie said. "I wish we would have had our team all season, but that's the NBA."
Hardaway's fadeaway jumper with 17 seconds left in the period put Phoenix ahead 68-55, and the Suns led 68-56 entering the final quarter.
The Spurs didn't go down easily, though. With David Robinson resting, Elliott scored six in a row to cut Phoenix's lead to 68-62 with 9:51 to play, and Antonio Daniels' three-point play after a Suns' turnover made it 70-66 with 8:12 remaining.
But Rogers' baseline dunk on a pass from Kidd capped a 6-0 spurt that put Phoenix back in control, 78-68, with 6:20 to go, and San Antonio got no closer than eight again.
"A lot of guys were really great in this series," Skiles said. "I thought Penny and Rodney really shined."
As was the case throughout the series, Phoenix fell behind early.
A 14-0 run put San Antonio up 21-8 on Rose's steal and stuff with 2:33 left in the first quarter. But the Suns followed with a 14-0 surge of their own, taking a 22-21 lead on Hardaway's inside shot with 10:33 left in the half.
Kidd's 3-pointer put Phoenix ahead for good, 27-24, with 9:17 left in the half, and they led 42-37 at the break.
Notes: Rogers was presented with the Sixth Man Award before the
game. ... The Spurs have never won a playoff series when they lost
Game 1. ... Hardaway had three turnovers in the first quarter. ...
Derrick Dial, who played in just eight games all season, had five
points in the fourth quarter for San Antonio. ... The Spurs were
24-for-39 from the free-throw line, while Phoenix was 12-for-19.
... Kidd had five turnovers and Hardaway six. ... The Spurs shot 37
percent for the game and the series. ... Randy Livingston, the
Suns' starting point guard the first three games of the series,
played only the final 46.7 seconds.