Work in Sports
PHOENIX (Ticker) -- Todd Day put the defending NBA champions on the verge of saying goodnight.
Day scored all 16 of his points in the fourth quarter, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:19 remaining, as the Phoenix Suns pushed the San Antonio Spurs to the brink of elimination with a 101-94 victory in Game Three of their Western Conference first-round series.
After going scoreless through three quarters, Day ignited the Suns, who erased a 10-point deficit entering the final period.
He made a trio of 3-pointers and a tip-in and sank 5-of-6 free throws, teaming with Penny Hardaway to rally Phoenix.
"I looked at today as a breakout game for me," Day said. "I didn't think I was going to get 16, but I felt I was going to get minutes tonight and I wanted to prove to everyone else that I deserved the minutes. This team is so talented a guy like me is left by the wayside."
"He really came up big," Suns coach Scott Skiles said. "We put him out there to space the floor and if he got some open looks, we knew he could make them. He got some and he wasn't afraid to put them up."
The 6-6 veteran swingman sank a free throw that tied it, 87-87, with 4:26 left and drilled a 3-pointer on the next possession to give the Suns the lead for the first time in the period.
Hardaway, who had a triple-double with 17 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds, answered two scores by San Antonio with a pair of drives before Mario Elie tied it with a 3-pointer with 1:37 to play. Day responded with another 3-pointer 18 seconds later and the Suns never trailed again.
"Our defensive assignments really got screwed up, plus we made some dumb mental mistakes down the stretch," Spurs All-Star center David Robinson said. "We're up by 10 going into the fourth quarter, you think things are going pretty well and to have a team fall apart like that is pretty disappointing."
After averaging only 71 points in the first two games of the series at San Antonio, Phoenix broke out at home and can advance to the conference semifinals for the first time since 1995 with a win in Game Four on Tuesday.
That will be an elimination game for the Spurs, who faced no such pressure during their 15-2 run to last year's title. Still without injured superstar forward Tim Duncan, they are in danger of becoming the first defending champ since the Philadelphia 76ers in 1984 to make a first-round exit.
"A lot of people are really upset," Spurs forward Sean Elliott said. "We blew some defensive assignments. We obviously have to win. We'll see how we respond. A lot of guys are really angry right now. We felt like we gave the game away. We have no choice but to be ready Tuesday."
Robinson had another huge game with 37 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks. But he scored only four points in the fourth quarter and didn't get much help from his teammates.
"We've been in this spot before, the second game at home," said Robinson. "It was pretty much like an elimination game for us.
We had to really focus and this is the same way we have to understand what the importance is for Game Four and get it done."
It was Hardaway's first career playoff triple-double and the first in the postseason by a Suns player since Charles Barkley in Game Five of the 1993 NBA Finals.
Day began the final period with two foul shots and a 3-pointer around a jumper by San Antonio's Samaki Walker. Rookie Shawn Marion and Rodney Rogers framed a 10-2 burst with 3-pointers to get the Suns within 85-84 with 6:48 remaining.
"We couldn't keep on chasing their 3-point shooters," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Marion and Day got us with about three 3s down the stretch and we didn't recover. We pretty much kept them under wrap, but they got us in the end."
Robinson answered with a jumper but Day tipped in his own miss with 5:52 to play.
Marion was extremely active and had 16 points and 14 rebounds.
Rogers scored 15 points off the bench and Cliff Robinson added 14 for the Suns, who shot 44 percent (38-of-87) and held edges of 50-43 on the glass and 50-26 in bench points.
Elie scored 12 points, Terry Porter added 11 and Walker 10 and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, who shot just 39 percent (30-of-77) but made 29-of-36 free throws.
"The 13 offensive rebounds they got in the second half mentally was a killer for us," Popovich said. "They got too many second opportunities that hurt us and as anybody knows, turnovers have really been a nemesis for us. Twenty five points off turnovers is obviously way too many."
The Spurs jumped to an 11-0 lead as the Suns went scoreless for more than four minutes. But Hardaway scored eight points as Phoenix battled back within 27-21 after one quarter.
"I felt like we had some good looks early," Skiles said. "I don't panic when we're getting good looks. I felt that we were just a little uptight in the beginning."
Rogers had a layup and 3-pointer in a 9-3 surge that opened the second period and pulled the Suns into a tie. He scored nine points in the quarter, including a layup with less than a second to go that gave Phoenix a 50-49 lead.
However, the Suns still had no answer for David Robinson, who went to the line 14 times and scored 21 points.
A jumper and 3-pointer by Cliff Robinson around a jumper from Luc Longley began the third quarter and gave the Suns a 57-49 advantage. But the Spurs stormed back behind David Robinson, who scored 12 more in the period.
His three-point play tied it, 64-64, with 4:50 remaining. He had another three-point play to trigger a 13-0 run that featured six points from Malik Rose and gave San Antonio a 79-69 lead heading into the final quarter.
"It's been a crazy series because there's been huge runs by both teams throughout the series," Hardaway said. "When they made their run at the end of the third quarter, we were a little down. ... We just tried to keep fighting, stay aggressive and kept attacking."