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2:10 AM ET, 5/09/06

Thoughts from a shootout

Posted by Kelly Dwyer
Leandro Barbosa
Leandro Barbosa chipped in 17 points for the Suns in Game 1.
Notes and nonsense from the first game of a potentially lovely series ...

-- It's been bandied about, and about, and about, and about -- we're in the wee hours of May 9 and we still don't know how exactly you're supposed to guard Phoenix's pick-and-roll attack. Hedging works as a gimmick sometimes, but it allows for plenty of open spaces and opportunity for players stuck on the weak side to step into the passing lanes for an open jumper. It's a dangerous, double-edged thing -- you mustn't do too much of it. Switching seems like the way to go, but unless you have an athletic frontcourt that can stick with the puny ones, it's bound to cause more problems than it solves. Going under a screen only serves to anger Steve Nash, and you don't want him on your bad side. He'll cut ya.

By and large, the Clippers seemed more interested in switching -- mainly because they could get a third defender to help out, and were athletic enough to at least try to cover all comers. It's an idea that worked fabulously for the Lakers in the first round, who did a remarkable job on the Suns for the first four games of their opening-round series loss. Problem is, you have to be on your game to stick with that attack, it involves more focus and dedication than just about anything defenders have been asked to do in their basketball careers.

You have to think on your feet, see the court, explode toward an open shooter in an instant, stop on a dime, and ignore your usual defensive instincts. Not fun. One second spent wandering in no man's land, and Steve Nash will find someone for an open look. Or Boris Diaw will do the same. Or Leandro Barbosa will nail a trey. Or Shawn Marion will free himself for a lob. You have to play the perfect game, and few have the wherewithal to pull that off.

-- I'm a Chicago native, and sometimes left the confines of my basement apartment (flush with ceramic pirate statue, framed Xavier Cugat picture, and tasty Fender half-stack) to "cover" about twenty Bulls contests for an old, annoying, Web site during the 2000-01 season. It was Elton Brand's last season in Chicago, he was a rock during that campaign, but the Bulls won 15 games -- and Elton's game seemed to stagnate in his second year.

Brand only went over his left shoulder for jump hooks, his jumper came and went, and he could be taken out of the offense. Nit-picking, of course, but these were the "limitations" that some loved to point out. That summer, he was traded for Tyson Chandler; everyone knows how that turned out, as anyone who doubted his ability to develop or play alongside another low post talent must be feeling like a cloth cap right now.

Tonight Elton went off for 40 points, hitting 18-of-22 shots, pulling in nine rebounds, dishing three assists, blocking four shots and turning the ball over just once in 42 minutes. Amazing. He was able to drive around defenders, spin off either pivot foot for turnaround jumpers, finish with his left hand, and go either way on either block. On one defensive possession in the fourth quarter he was able to trap Nash some 28 feet from the basket, and recover enough to pin a Boris Diaw layup against the glass about four seconds later. He's tour de force, chum-chums, and plenty fun to behold. They want me to limit my words in these blog posts, and I can hardly blame them -- but I can hardly begin to tell you how good this guy is at basketball.

-- I've seen my fair share of MVP award ceremonies, but this was easily the longest speech I've ever witnessed David Stern give before a game. It was a bit of a puff piece, and a little unnerving. Here's a snippet of what he told Steve Nash before Game 1:

"You demonstrate the best of our sport, a passion for our game, a commitment to our community, and an engagement with our fans. Some of us talk about the values of sport, you live them, the most important being interdependence. You had a great year, great statistics, but your teammates had a great year because of you -- and your team won its division. We need you. Hell, I need you. I'm a mess without ya. I miss you so damn much. I miss being with you. I miss being near you. I miss your laugh. I miss ... I miss your scent. I miss your musk. When this all gets sorted out, I think you and me should get an apartment together ..."

It was at that point that Mike D'Antoni came out and asked the commissioner to stop talking for a while.

-- Why does Cedric Ceballos have a mohawk? I'd make a lame joke about him wearing a blindfold to the barbershop, but we all know Ced could see through that blindfold back in 1992.

-- The Suns are one of the last NBA teams (New Jersey being the other) that plays Elvis Costello's Pump It Up during timeouts. It's always warming to note that a song written as a tell off to a too-rowdy bunch including Nick Lowe, the Blockheads, and Wreckless Eric, (cobbled together at some ungodly hour, 29 years ago, in a motel room somewhere outside of Croydon) can still get Eddie House ready to roll.

-- Stat fiends, the Suns had exactly 100 possessions tonight, and scored 130 points. Yikes. This was against a defense that gave up 104.8 points per hundred possessions in the regular season.

-- After months of moaning, I think I've finally come to terms with the NBA's moronic playoff seeding structure -- this series and the Dallas/San Antonio counterpart are well worth the hassle.


Posted: 6:35 AM   by David
It must be everyone's comment, but I'll say anyway - what in the world will Phoenix do when they run into a low post game they can't stop, like Brand? (They haven't stopped him, and this series just started, so...)

They can't shoot 40% or higher from 3-point land all the time (I don't think). Even if all this run and hustle gets them past LA somehow, can they handle teams with 2 big centers? Aren't they finally going to get hammered?

They're a blast, I admit. If Stoudemire comes back, they will be very hard to stop next year. They're looking at several great years if these peices come together. But right now, I think they're going to get flattened by whatever steamroller shows up next.

Of course Steve Nash is unstoppable. He is that Kelly kid from Bad News Bears grown up. "Let they play let them play"
Posted: 1:14 AM   by DD
re: David -
So you expect them to do...what? Give up and stop playing just because it seems like they don't stand a chance? It isn't like they *wanted* to be in this Amare-less/K Thomas-less situation. Sheesh...

I think the Suns have shown again and again this season that teamwork and sheer determination (and maybe some divine intervention?) go a long way toward covering up that Amare-sized hole in the middle. Maybe it gets them further than everyone thinks, maybe not. All I know is they're amazing to watch, and whatever happens next, I am just going to enjoy the show for as long as it lasts.
Posted: 8:50 AM   by David
Yes DD, I didn't mean that the Suns should roll over and die (they wouldn't anyway). I was really expressing regret over their situation, and I think they have done marvelously well in these circumstances, And I agree with you (I think), that they really are the most exciting, interesting team in the league. With this Diaw kid, and Stoudemire back, they might temporarily re-define the game. Everyone can shoot, everyone can pass. If Stoudemire learns how to pass the ball (not that he exactly needs to), no one will ever stop him. He could be the greatest player since Jordan (I haven't forgotten what he did in last year's playoffs, nor has anyone else).
Sadly, though, I fear the Clips may do them in with all this size. But it should be fun to watch, in any case, running, passing, shooting vs. pounding and banging.
Posted: 12:18 PM   by DD
David: If you're still reading this, apologies for my "tone". Something about seeing yet another semi-diss of my guys right after they just pulled off the best 4-game streak of mental dominance I've seen in my relatively short NBA-fan life kind of got to me I guess. But I'm STILL trying to figure out how they won game 6, so maybe we are not so far apart after all. :)