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Change of pace

Suns' defense gets them to second round

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Posted: Thursday May 04, 2000 12:30 AM

  Scott Skiles Scott Skiles believes his team has a chance to win every time if they play good defense. Brian Bahr /Allsport

PHOENIX (AP) -- The Phoenix Suns made it past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in five years with defense. That's right, defense.

A franchise with a long history of a run-and-gun, you-shoot-then-we-shoot style has undergone a remarkable transformation under the hard-nosed leadership of coach Scott Skiles.

"Being hurt, I got to listen to all you guys," Jason Kidd told reporters after his dramatic comeback from a broken ankle helped the Suns eliminate the defending champion San Antonio Spurs with a 89-78 victory Tuesday night.

"Nobody's really talked about the Suns' defense. We've been doing it all season, and again in this series we came out and played great defense."

The Spurs averaged 81.8 points per game -- down from 96.2 in the regular season -- and shot 37 percent from the field in the four-game series.

In two of the Suns' three victories, San Antonio scored 70 and 78 points. Skiles, who took over early in the season, when Danny Ainge resigned, has a simple reason for emphasizing defense.

"You're always in it if you play good defense," he said.

San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, whose own team prides itself on strong defense, praised Phoenix's commitment to stopping opponents.

"I think it's an excellent defensive team, because they sustain the aggressiveness throughout the game," Popovich said. "It's not just in spurts, and it's not just when Scotty gets up and gets on somebody. You can see they really believe in it and they're committed to do it as a team for the entire game."

The leader on defense is Cliff Robinson, who usually is matched up with an opponent's toughest offensive weapon inside. He even took his turn against David Robinson and fared about as well as any of the defenders the Suns threw at the Spurs' center.

And, of course, now they know Kidd will be there. After playing 31 minutes in his first appearance since breaking his ankle March 22, Kidd said he felt no pain. He didn't seem too rusty, either, hitting four of five shots for nine points and handing out 10 assists.

If Phoenix thought David Robinson was a handful, wait until it tries to slow down Shaquille O'Neal.

"They're extremely strong, but they're not invincible," Cliff Robinson said. "But you have to play solid basketball."

Popovich insisted the Suns could give the Lakers trouble.

"There's nobody that's that unbeatable," Popovich said. "The Lakers obviously had a great year, and Shaq has been awesome. But I think Phoenix presents a lot of problems for any team. Now they're playing confidently, who knows what might happen? They're a very deep, talented team."


 
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