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Updated: Monday, April 14, 2003 1:08 AM EDT
NBA RECAP
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Phoenix 92, San Antonio 85
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
San Antonio Spurs
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PHOENIX SUNS
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PHOENIX (Ticker) -- Happiness for Stephon Marbury is a postseason berth.

Marbury scored 23 points and added 10 assists as the Phoenix Suns clinched the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference by ending the San Antonio Spurs' 11-game winning streak with a 92-85 victory.

Phoenix is set to return to the playoffs after missing the postseason last year for the first time in 14 years. San Antonio missed a chance to clinch the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

The wait for Marbury was even longer as he had not been in the postseason since the Minnesota Timberwolves lost a five-game series to Seattle in 1998. Marbury was acquired before last season from the New Jersey Nets in a trade that seemed to be lopsided in favor of New Jersey, but Phoenix finally earned some huge dividends.

"Right now, I'm probably the happiest person on this earth," Marbury said. "It's the happiest I've ever been since my kids were born. It's just a great feeling, just to be back in postseason."

Marbury shared a warm embrace with teammate Jake Voskuhl after the game and broke down in tears after retiring to the locker room. He had been dogged by criticisms that he was selfish and the total antithesis of a team player, but turned in a season for the Suns in which his team play and improved attitude helped unify a young squad.

"That was a very emotional moment in the locker room, especially for Stephon," Phoenix coach Frank Johnson said. "He just wept because he was so happy. There was a lot on him in coming here and with what happened last year and how we played. Then, to come back this year, he carried us, and we rode him through games like you wouldn't believe."

The Suns also served notice that they will not be easy pickings in a likely first-round series with the Spurs. Phoenix won the season series, 3-1, and San Antonio's lone win came in overtime.

"It's not necessarily that we match up against the Spurs," Marbury said. "It's great that we won the season series. But it's playoff time and it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter."

Shawn Marion scored 24 points for Phoenix, which has won four straight and eight out of 10. The Suns finished the regular season on a five-game home winning streak.

Joe Johnson gave Phoenix the lead for good with a pair of jumpers as part of a 7-0 spurt in the third quarter. His two free throws capped it and opened a 72-65 advantage with 2:25 remaining.

Johnson had 11 of his 20 points in the third quarter.

"I think it all started right before training camp," Joe Johnson said. "We all came together as one, and we just worked hard throughout the season."

Phoenix's swarming defensive scheme bottled up reigning MVP Tim Duncan, who was limited to eight shots. The Suns' constant double- and triple-teaming forced to Duncan to find perimeter shooters, who combined to make just 28 percent (5-of-18) from beyond the arc.

"It was their game plan," Duncan said. "They came at me hard. We got the ball out of there, but just didn't hit some shots."

The Spurs turned in a sloppy effort with 22 turnovers and also shot poorly at the line, making just 14-of-24 free throws.

San Antonio also had a nine-game road winning streak snapped. Its last road loss was a 95-87 setback at Dallas on February 20.

Marbury recorded his 23rd double-double, victimizing San Antonio's Tony Parker in the process. Parker managed just seven points and four assists.

"You never like anyone's defense on Stephon," San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. "We haven't found anybody that's played defense on Stephon. We're still looking for somebody to do that."

San Antonio stayed close down the stretch and was within 88-84 after Speedy Claxton made the first of two free throws with 52 seconds to go. The Spurs came up with the miss on the second attempt, but rookie Emanuel Ginobili had a 3-pointer from the top of the key blocked.

Ginobili and fellow reserve Malik Rose each netted 18 points to lead San Antonio while Duncan was limited to 15 and seven rebounds. Duncan was the only starter in double figures for the Spurs.

"They were trying to junk it up and that's kind of their game plan," Duncan said. "Whenever we see them again, we have to be better controlled and take some shots on basket."

"Tonight's game plan was to double their 'bigs' and make them do something from the outside," Frank Johnson said. "He took only eight shots because our double-teams were so aggressive."

Phoenix shot 35 percent (7-of-20 in the first quarter and trailed, 20-15. San Antonio began to unravel a bit in the second quarter. After rookie Amare Stoudemire dunked on David Robinson, Popovich was called for a technical. The Suns went on to grab a 43-38 halftime edge.

Stoudemire and Penny Hardaway each scored 10 points for Phoenix, which shot 51.5 percent (35-of-68). Stoudemire grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Suns.

Parker, Bruce Bowen and Stephen Jackson combined to make just 1-of-12 shots from the arc. Ginobili was the only Spur to find the range, making 4-of-6 attempts.


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