One of the more difficult questions to answer about last night's Game 1 was whether the Suns should be encouraged by their win or concerned that the Spurs hung around despite great performances by Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Jason Richardson. As a fan of neither team, I'd fall into the second camp after watching last night's game.
SB Nation's Suns blog Bright Side of the Sun, however, is squarely in the first camp. In previous years, it was the bigger Spurs beating the smaller Suns by curbing their transition opportunities and dominating in the paint. However, Seth Pollack writes that the roles were reversed in Game 1.
It's is pretty shocking to watch a Suns Spurs series where the bigger team is wearing Purple and Orange.
The team with more points in the paint (56-48), more rebounds (44-38) and more second chance points (10-4) was the team with the bigger lineups who played better defense and was less dependent on transition baskets and pick and roll. That team is now the Phoenix Suns.
Indeed, Pollack is very confident that the Suns are in good shape in this series.
This series is going to go long but in the end, I simply don't believe a Spurs team that is getting 30+ minutes out of three guards and a fairly ineffective small forward plus Tim Duncan can win. McDyess only played 19 minutes. Bonner and Blair 13 and 11. If Gregg Popovich continues to try and win this series going small he simply concedes a big advantage to the Suns who have much more depth at the guard and wing positions.
The Suns bench didn't do a good job tonight, but there's no reason to think that at some point in this series those guys won't step it up. They are certainly more capable than Keith Bogans and an injured Roger Mason. If Pop wants to make this a run and gun series, he is playing right into the Suns hands. And he has to know that, which goes to show how little trust he has in McDyess and Bonner.
And here's the part where I caution Suns fans about getting a bit ahead of themselves. It might be true that, in the long run, the Spurs going small favors the Suns. But one thing's for sure: it did not favor the Suns last night. In fact, it's the only reason this game was close in the first place. The Suns were leading by 14 points when Popovich decided to roll out a small lineup of Tony Parker, George Hill, Manu Ginobili, Keith Bogans and Tim Duncan. Over the next four minutes and 22 seconds, that crew outscored the Suns by 11 points, as they slashed their way through Phoenix's defense. Rebounding wasn't an issue either - the Spurs held the Suns without an offensive rebound and grabbed three of their own during that stretch. So I guess I'm confused as to why Suns fans aren't worried about that lineup. It killed them in Game 1 and nearly stole away the game.
Then again, perhaps the real issue with the small lineup is that Popovich rolled it out too early. There's an argument to be made that it was better suited to being used later in the series, when the Suns weren't expecting it. Now that the Suns have seen it, they can make adjustments early in the series to counter it. I guess we'll see about that.
But regardless, it's way too early to call this series right now. The Spurs will get a better game out of Hill, especially defensively against Nash. When that happens, they won't have to help off Phoenix's shooters as much, which should lower the Suns' blistering shooting percentage and limit offensive rebounding opportunities. They'll play better transition defense, because Popovich will demand it. And then, it comes down to that small lineup. Can Phoenix stop it in the short stretch Popovich uses it? Will Popovich overuse it? The way he deployed it in Game 1 was perfect, and it would have led to a win if the Spurs played better in the other 44 minutes of the game.
In other words, we're just getting started with this series. Buckle up.