The NBA playoffs feature several heated rivalries, but few are as hotly contested, and contain as much drama as Monday’s match-up between the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns. These two teams seem to be destined to duke it out on an annual basis. The Suns won the regular season series, 3-1, but the Spurs have been playing a different brand of basketball since the beginning of these 2010 NBA playoffs.
Coming off of a four games to two first-round stunner of the second-seeded Dallas Mavericks, the veteran Spurs looked as if they had somehow tapped into the fountain of youth. Playing inspired team ball, the Spurs knocked down their open shots, played solid defense, and showed a great deal of poise throughout the series. Most impressive were Guard Manu Ginobili, who played fearlessly despite having a fractured nose (scoring 19 ppg), and young guard George Hill who stole the headlines from his better-known teammates with a strong series performance, averaging 34 minutes and 14 ppg. The reliable, but aging Tim Duncan chipped in with a series average of 18 points, 1 block, and 9 rebounds and Tony Parker also contributed a rather quiet 15 points and 5 assists for the series, coming off the bench.
In their round one series, the Suns defeated a Portland team that was hampered by injuries throughout the season. Led by Jason Richardson’s 23 ppg series average, Phoenix prevailed in six games. The Suns were directed by all-star floor general Steve Nash who scored 15 points per game and dished out almost 10 assists. Forward Amare Stoudemire has had quite a year, and his dominance was evidenced in the first round of the playoffs as he manhandled the Trailblazers inside the paint, averaging 20 points and 5 rebounds. Phoenix also received solid contributions from veterans Grant Hill (8 points in 27 minute per game), and Leonardo Barbosa (8 points in 15 minutes per game).
Looking ahead to Monday night’s game 1 between the Spurs and Suns in the second round of the Western Conference NBA playoffs, there are three keys that will ultimately determine the outcome.
First will be the back-court match-up between the Suns Steve Nash/Jason Richardson and the Spurs Tony Parker/Manu Ginbolii. As these two pairs go, so go their respective teams. All four of these players have the ability to take over a game, but even with Parker coming off the bench and battling an injury, the Spurs have the edge in playoff experience. This is a great match-up, but if Ginobili plays close to how he concluded his series with the Mavericks, then I will have to give a slight edge to the Spurs.
Next, will be the front-court match-up between Amare Stoudemire and Tim Duncan. A few years ago, I would have had to select Tim Duncan in a match-up with just about any other power forward in league history. At his prime, Duncan was that good. Unfortunately, it is clear that age is catching up to Tim Duncan. On the other end, it seems that Amare Stoudemire has fully recovered from past injuries and is playing at his high-flying, slam-dunking best. I have to give the edge to the younger, more athletic Stoudemire.
Lastly, we must look at the contribution both teams receive from their respective role players. This is the category that sets the Spurs apart from the Suns. In round one, the Spurs brought Tony Parker off the bench, which has led to the emergence of George Hill. Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess provide skilled, veteran leadership, and ball-hawking defensive skills. Rookie DeJuan Blair and the streaky Matt Bonner are also key contributors. As a result of their up tempo style, the Suns play more players, but the Spurs get a greater overall impact from their first eight. Edge to San Antonio.
Game 1 Prediction: With the Spurs coming out of a more competitive series against a better opponent, I am predicting that they will continue their momentum into the first game of their series with the Suns. Expect this to be a close one, with the Spurs emerging victorious by 6 points.