Here’s what we learned from the Suns dismal loss to the Spurs on Friday: they’re still a soft bunch capable of being pushed around and their system was incapable of stopping opposing point guards. For too long they’ve been unable to contain penetration, and it’s killed them over and over. 41 points and 12 assists for Parker on 17-for-26 shooting is completely inexcusable. And now that they don’t run as frequently or as efficiently and don’t have as many good outside shooters (sans James Jones, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson), they can’t make up for it. Serious changes should be made in the offseason. Phoenix also showed a complete lack of urgency and energy, which is a extremely hard to figure when it was basically a do-or-die game, and the leadership (or lack thereof) has a lot of answering to do.
A dapper Boris Diaw photo credit: Icon SMI
Sunday was a completely different story, with Phoenix coming out and playing with pride like they should have on Friday, winning 106-86 and looking in charge for the entire 48 minutes. The play of Boris Diaw was a revelation. Grant Hill’s return as a healthy contributor this year has been a great story. He managed to participate in 70 games in the regular season, the most since his last season in Detroit in the 1999-00 season. Then the playoffs rolled around and Grant went back to his injury-plagued self. It’s a shame, because Grant is a classy guy and still has a lot of basketball left in him — but Phoenix had to know his health was a major concern when they inked him. On Sunday the Phoenix Suns played their best game of the series without Hill, and his absence if the starting lineup might make them a better team.
Boris Diaw was inserted into the small forward slot in his place and his play was key inthe victory. Boris has been a major disappointment for two seasons now, but he plays significantly better when in the starting lineup. When starting this season he put up a line like his breakout 2005-06 season with 12 points, 5 assists and 5.7 boards on 51% FGs compared to just 7.9 points, 3.5 assists and 4.3 boards on 46.3% FGs when coming off the bench. He posted a line of 20 points, 10 boards, 8 assists and 2 blocks on 10-for-19 shooting in the win.
As Jeff Van Gundy pointed out he presents significant matchup problems for the smaller San Antonio small forwards. He’s too big and can post up smaller players, he’s too good of a passer to double-team, and he’s too agile to put a big body on. He also did a splendid defensive job on Tony Parker, who has absolutely lit up the Suns guards this series. Diaw and Parker have a history from their days in France, and perhaps it gives Diaw an edge. Of course, this news is all a day late and a dollar short, nobody comes back from 0-3, but the Phoenix Suns need to learn from this experience. Heading into 2008-09 Boris Diaw needs to be in the starting lineup, Grant Hill is not to be counted on and finding more creative ways to hide Steve Nash on defense has to be a top priority.