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Tale of Two Floor Generals In the San Antone

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Good night, Phoenix.

There will be plenty of long-term Suns analysis in this space in the days and weeks to come.  Last week featured spirited e-mail exchanges with two personal favorite Suns bloggers -- Phoenix Stan and TexSUN, of and formerly of Bright Side of the Sun respectively -- about the future of Mike D'Antoni and whether the coach with the .650 winning percentage over the last four regular season should or will see the door this off-season.  There will be much ado about what Steve Kerr can do with this roster in order to take this team to the next level as a championship contender.  As one of the most exciting teams -- as well as one of the best -- this league has had to offer for the past four seasons, the Suns have more than earned the attention.

But in the wake of the final super-competitive match-up between the Suns' and their Texan nemeses that we'll have the privilege of seeing this season, this day is to be used for paying homage to the difference in the game that sealed the Suns' fate and sent the defending champs on to a meeting with the new kids on the block from N'Awlins: the evening's vast gap between the point guards.

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There was a lot that went on last night: Boris Diaw played out of his mind for 46 minutes and well inside it for the last two.  The Hack-a-Shaq was largely successful.  Tim Duncan played another beautiful game and was particularly effective shooting from mid-range.  Shaquille O'Neal looked far more like an old Shaq than the Shaq of old.  More screeners were knocked down by defenders than usual (always fun to see that sort of thing).  Raja Bell had an enormous third quarter.  So on and so forth.  It was a good game between two Western Conference powers, and it should be no surprise that there were plenty of folks serving as big factors.

But for all of the announcers' lavishing of love on Diaw, and for all of the attention on the Shaq-based chess match occurring between the coaches, there was one defining theme that stood through this game, particularly the final minutes: the play of Tony Parker and Steve Nash.

D'Antoni made his share of questionable decisions.  Leandro Barbosa wasn't good throughout the series.  Amare Stoudemire didn't have his best game.  But more than anybody else on the purple side for the final loss last night, this one is on Steve Nash.

In the survival test of the season, the two-time MVP simply didn't have it.  He couldn't get into a flow offensively either as a facilitator or a scorer.  We're usually really big in this space on telling you about how the numbers 'don't tell the whole story.'  No need for that platitude this morning.   The line next to Nash's name in the box score makes the truth crystal clear: 4-for-16 from the field, 1-for-6 from deep, 11 points, 3 assists, 5 turnovers.  He didn't have his shot going from the outside.  When he drove, he was often driving into traffic and was forced to take shots from odd angles, and Nash simply didn't have it in him to get those tougher-than-usual shots to fall. Yet with all the trouble Nash was having on his own, he wasn't finding his boys in the passing lanes for open looks either.

The offense sputtered all night.  Whether the Suns met some adversity from the referees down the stretch remains in question, but truth is this: Nash presided over an offense that turned the ball over three straight times and four times in five possessions in the final two minutes.  He was responsible for two of those turnovers and involved with a third -- the questionably called play on which Bruce Bowen tipped Raja Bell's in-bounds pass that was ruled to have touched Nash's hands on the way out of bounds with 24 seconds to play and the Suns trailing by just two points at the time (they never got within one possession again).  That sort of thing cannot happen.  Alas, it did.

This is the man.  This is the leader of this team.  No matter what the others on his squad did, Steve Nash had the biggest onus on him coming into this game, and he also did the least to meet expectations for his performance.  He didn't make his teammates appreciably better, and save for two big baskets late in the fourth (one to put the Suns up 82-81 and one to tie it up at 85), the Nashty one didn't have the wherewithal to get it all done himself.  And so he takes the primary share of the culpability for this one, though it is certainly a pie of many divisions.

Note please that none of this is meant as a greater degradation of Nash.  He has been consistently great for the last four seasons and has come up huge for the Suns on more than his share of occasions.  By no means is this to say that he is 'washed up' or 'finished.'  But for one night in particular, he could not get the job done.

This was only accentuated by what was going on at the other end of the floor by a man nine years Nash's junior.

Tony Parker culminated another statement series for him with one more virtuoso performance.  For a man who didn't have the greatest shooting night from the field (9-for-21), Parker seemed to do just about everything right anyway.  For the game, he only scored four points outside of the lane, but ultimately, he didn't need to do any more than that.  Because the Suns had no answer.  They just couldn't keep the reigning Finals MVP in front of them.  Tony Parker wanted to get into the lane last night, and by and large, that's exactly what he did.  He slid past his men, drew double teams and struck the perfect balance of finishing lay-ups, drawing fouls and dishing out for open looks.  The man had eight assists, and the 71.5 percent foul shooter went 13-for-16 from the line.

When Parker was out of the game, the Spurs were in all sorts of trouble.  They couldn't get the offense functioning without him, because with Manu Ginobili having an off night of his own, they weren't able to get good penetration against the Suns' defense, thus preventing those open looks from being there.  With Parker on the floor, all that changed.  His quickness and decision-making made the difference for the Spurs offensively.  Once again, the box score doesn't lie, and one stat in particular tells the story this time around: plus-14.  That was Parker's game-high differential.  As bad as Nash was for the Suns, TP was just that good for the Spurs.

The men of the old guard may have prevailed once more in the continuing rivalry between San Antonio and Phoenix, but it was one particularly young guard above all who made it so.

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