Work in Sports
SAN ANTONIO (Ticker) -- Without Tim Duncan on the court, the Phoenix Suns were able to topple the San Antonio Spurs and their remaining "Twin Tower."
The Suns shot down David Robinson and got clutch play down the stretch from unlikely source Corie Blount as they stunned the defending NBA champion Spurs, 72-70, in the opener of their Western Conference first-round series.
Duncan, the Most Valuable Player of the 1999 NBA Finals, sat out with a cartilage tear in his left knee that forced him to miss the final four games of the regular season. The All-Star forward could only watch as Robinson and the rest of the Spurs struggled mightily in the lowest-scoring playoff game in NBA history.
Hampered by foul trouble, Robinson did not score from the field until the third quarter and finished with 11 points on just 3-of-12 shooting. He was constantly double- and triple-teamed and got no help from his teammates, who repeatedly missed open jumpers. San Antonio shot 37 percent (27-of-73).
"They did a great job," Robinson said. "They double-teamed me. They did a nice job fronting me. We have to make adjustments. We need guys to step up. We need to find a better way to be effective."
"Everybody collapsed on David Robinson," Blount said. "It was my job to front him and then others would collapse on him. All night long I was just trying to beat him to his favorite spots on the floor."
With Duncan leading the way last year, San Antonio stormed to its first title, going 15-2 to match the second-best playoff mark in league history. One of those losses came at home in the first round but the Spurs followed it with a record 11 wins in a row.
Samaki Walker started for Duncan and collected 13 points and 16 rebounds. But most of his points came around the basket and he does not warrant the constant double-teams foes use on Duncan.
"Yeah, we need Tim," Robinson admitted. "He brings a lot of size that we need. Everybody has to do their thing, though. We have to make our shots. Our offense was bad tonight."
The Spurs are taking Duncan's status game by game but clearly are not the same team without him. Having already given away home-court advantage, San Antonio needs the return of its best player or is in danger of becoming the first defending champ to go out in the first round since Philadelphia in 1984.
"He's in rehab right now," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
"His status has nothing to do with our record in the playoffs.
If he's ready to play, he'll play. If he's not, he won't. How we play isn't relevant to him playing. His (long-term) health is the important issue."
"I wouldn't be surprised to see Tim Duncan play the next game (on Tuesday)," said Suns coach Scott Skiles, who won his playoff coaching debut. "Actually, I wouldn't have been surprised today. ... Tim is one of the best players in the world and we'll just deal with him if he plays."
A reserve his entire six-year career, Blount was pressed into extended action as the Suns battle injury problems of their own.
The 6-9 forward set an early tone with his defense and made three huge free throws in the final minute. He finished with five points, six rebounds, three blocks and a steal.
"Corie Blount was huge for us tonight," Suns guard Kevin Johnson said. "He took away four or five easy baskets from the Spurs' big men. Those possessions ended up being huge. That was the difference in this game."
The outcome was not secure until Rodney Rogers deflected away an inbounds pass in the final second, giving Phoenix a postseason road victory for the first time since Game One of the opening round at Seattle in 1997.
Penny Hardaway and Cliff Robinson scored 17 points apiece for Phoenix, which shot under 37 percent (30-of-82) but recovered after blowing an 11-point third-quarter lead. Rogers scored 15 points and rookie Shawn Marion added 10 and nine rebounds.
"We are not done by a long shot," Rogers said. "We are just getting started. We can't get the big head. We have to maintain our cool. We can't sit back and relax. We know they will come back strong on Tuesday."
Hardaway suffered a hyperextended left knee early in the fourth quarter but returned minutes later. He joined Phoenix's list of walking wounded, which includes guards Jason Kidd (broken ankle) and Kevin Johnson (groin strain).
Kidd, an All-Star, has been ruled out of at least the first two games and not expected to play in this series. Johnson had just two points on 1-of-6 shooting. Forward Tom Gugliotta and guard Rex Chapman already are out for the season.
Sean Elliott, who returned this season after a kidney transplant in the summer, led the Spurs with 15 points but shot an airball in the final seconds with his team trailing by one.
Both teams set franchise lows for points in a playoff contest and they matched the lowest playoff total of the shot-clock era set by Detroit (79) and Atlanta (63) on May 12, 1999. However, the game still was exciting as the fourth quarter featured eight lead changes and one tie, at 62-62 on Elliott's 3-pointer with 4:55 left.
"This is the kind of game we've played against San Antonio all year," Skiles said. "It's an ugly, yet exciting game."
David Robinson had a three-point play between two free throws and a 3-pointer by Cliff Robinson. A foul shot by Avery Johnson pulled the Spurs within 67-66 with 2:32 to go and a follow shot by Malik Rose gave them the lead 43 seconds later.
Rogers followed in a miss with 1:24 left and Blount deflected a pass intended for David Robinson and sank two free throws at the other end for a 71-68 lead with 48 seconds remaining. After David Robinson quickly scored inside, Cliff Robinson missed a 3-pointer.
Elliott's floater just inside the foul line came up well short as he was hit on the head by Cliff Robinson. Blount rebounded and was fouled with one second left but split the pair before Rogers sealed it with his deflection.
"If we would have lost that game in the last second I would have cried," Blount said. "I have never cried about basketball in my life but if we had lost this one tonight it would have been the first time."
Avery Johnson scored 14 points, David Robinson had 11 rebounds and Rose grabbed 10 for the Spurs, who committed 18 turnovers and missed nine of 21 free throws.
"You can't get down because of a loss and you can't go sky high because of a win," Popovich said. "We need to shoot our free throws better and not have the turnovers."
Walker, who averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in the regular season, came out energized and collected seven points and nine rebounds in the first quarter. Everyone else seemed to be feeling their way and the Spurs led just 17-13 after one period.
A 3-pointer by Antonio Daniels extended the margin to 29-23 midway through the second quarter before the Spurs came unglued.
David Robinson picked up his third foul just over a minute later and San Antonio managed just two baskets the rest of the half.
Hardaway had five points and a pair of assists and Blount blocked two shots and drew a charge as Phoenix closed with an 18-5 spurt and grabbed a 41-35 halftime lead.
"One thing we knew coming in was that Walker and Rose are board warriors," Blount said. "That is one thing we saw on the tapes we watched. We have to keep them off the boards as best we can.
That's one thing I saw happening was the two of them getting inside early and I said to myself, 'I'm not going to allow that to happen when I get in there.'" David Robinson was 0-of-5 in the first half and continued to struggle in the third quarter. A three-point play by Hardaway and a jumper by Cliff Robinson gave Phoenix its largest lead at 52-41 with 6:15 remaining in the period.
David Robinson finally broke through with 4:45 left on a follow dunk of a missed drive by Elliott, who had a 10-foot jumper and 3-pointer around the miss to trigger a 12-4 run. The Spurs cut the deficit to 56-53 entering the fourth quarter and a jumper by Daniels and two foul shots by Walker gave them their first lead since midway through the second period.