But then, in a potential Game 4 closeout, Duncan made only 3 of 12 free throws, and the Suns, given up for dead, fired up an inspired, face-saving 111-106 victory. The SBC Center fans would no doubt disagree, but it was good for the NBA that Phoenix's quick-fire, entertaining brand of ball did not take a 4-0 nosedive in the postseason.
However, it was already clear that the Spurs were the better team--better balanced, better in the half-court, better on defense and just as good in the open floor. Trailing 52-51 early in the third period of Game 5, the Spurs built a 69-56 lead over a six-minute stretch, forcing four Phoenix turnovers. The Suns got it back to 93-90 on a Jim Jackson three-pointer with 2:45 left, but then Duncan tipped in his own miss and an Horry steal led to a Parker layup, putting the Spurs up seven. San Antonio won 101-95, after which Duncan (31 points) and Stoudemire (42 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter) exchanged mutual props.
"He said I played a heckuva series," said Stoudemire later, sounding (refreshingly) like a kid who had just met one of his idols. "It was good to hear that from Tim. He's one of the marquee players in this league, so best of luck to him."