Well, the Phoenix Suns have done it.
The Suns defeated the San Antonio Spurs Sunday night 107-101 to advance to the Western Conference finals. But they didn’t just beat them. They swept them into the dustbin.
Despite constant rumors that the Spurs would once again get the better of their 21st-century playoff whipping boys, Phoenix took care of San Antonio with relative ease and will face the winner of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz next week to determine the West’s representative for the NBA Finals.
The Spurs had hope of snagging at least one in this series, but Steve Nash would not be outdone, making sure of the series sweep over his Texas counterparts.
Nash left the game in the third quarter after blood began to spurt out of his eye — he was on the bad end of a brutal elbow from old Tim Duncan. He went to the locker room and got six stitches above that right eye while Goran “How to train your” Dragic filled in satisfactorily for the remainder of the third period.
And the injury ended up being a blessing in disguise. Nash routinely sits out the first six minutes or so of the fourth quarter to get his standard rest. Today, however, his playing time from the third quarter was displaced, allowing him to return to lead his team for the entire final period — and lead his team he did, in a manner that was reminiscent of no other incident that Curt Schilling’s bloody-sock performance in the 2004 MLB playoffs. Sure, that feat was part of an unprecedented comeback to beat the Yankees in the seven-game ALCS, but the Suns’ victory over the Spurs is unpredecented in its own way.
Nash finished with 20 points in the game, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter on a combination of jumpers, layups, one-footed runners, and a free throw. Five of his nine assists for the game also came in the game’s final 12 minutes.
But it was the timing of Nash’s buckets that was so memorable. Every time the Spurs began to threaten, Nash came back with a difficult shot or a crafty assist to counter for the Spurs. Considering how important Nash’s vision is to his game only amplifies the significance of his one-eyed play.
Finally, Nash can take solace in defeating the Spurs in a postseason series. He has the most career playoff games under his belt in NBA history without an NBA Finals appearance, and who knows how long ago that streak would have been snapped if not for Duncan and the rest of the Spurs. Nash has that monkey off his back now.
That said, the road ahead does not get any easier. The Suns are likely to face the Lakers in the next round, unless by some miracle the Jazz can come back and win four straight in spite of a drastic matchup disadvantage.
For Phoenix to advance from that round will take inspired performances for the Suns similar to Nash’s today. He’s the key to breaking down the LA defense by attacking its weak point in Derek Fisher. Nash always dismantles D-Fish when he plays the Lakers, but winning will also depend on solid efforts from Amar’e Stoudemire and solid shooting to go around.
For now, Nash can take a bit of a breather. Phoenix has seven days off now before its next game, and the team is obviously bloated with excitement after its monumental accomplishment.