This article appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on May 24, 2005.

Suns dig deep hole

By Ed Odeven

PHOENIX — “He’s our guy.”

That’s Tim Duncan’s value to his team, according to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

In Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, Duncan proved it once again, hitting 9 of 12 shots from the field in the second half to lead the poised, playoff-tested Spurs to a 111-108 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

The two-time NBA MVP was 1-for-7 from the field in the first half, but when it mattered most, his shots found the bottom of the net with regularity. He scored 25 of his 30 points in the second half, including 14 in the final quarter.

Young star Manu Ginobili, who led Argentina to the Olympic gold medal in Athens last summer, scored 14 of his 26 points in the decisive quarter.

The series shifts back to San Antonio for Game 3 Saturday. Trailing 0-2, the Suns will try to become the first team in NBA history to win a conference finals series after losing the first two games at home.

“Our backs are to the wall,” said Suns forward Shawn Marion, who had 11 points and 12 rebounds. “The bright side of it is that we’ve got the (league’s) best record on the road (31-10 during the regular season). We just have to go out there and try to get this done on the road.”

Especially in the fourth quarter.

The Suns haven’t been able to finish games, particularly on the defensive end — in the fourth quarter against San Antonio. They allowed 43 points in the final stanza Sunday and were outscored 31-23 Tuesday.

Duncan certainly understands the Suns’ frustration. Or as he put it: “The Suns shot almost 56 percent and they lost. I mean, they have got to be thinking, what more can we do?”

“We did not make a stop when we had to,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said.

The Suns trailed by 10 points in both of the first two games at home after one quarter, but they found themselves in the thick of things entering the final quarter in both games.

Trailing 97-94 with 5:43 left Tuesday, the Spurs used a 13-5 spurt to pull ahead 107-102 at the 1:19 mark.

Tony Parker, who scored 24 points on 10-of-18 shooting by slicing his way to the hole with ease, converted a layup to start the run. After Marion missed a short J, Parker made another inside bucket.

The Suns retook the lead at 102-100 on Steve Nash’s pull-up 3 with 2:56 to go. The Spurs called a timeout. Then they ran a set play and got the ball to one of their steady, clutch performers — Robert Horry.

The 13-year veteran, who owns five championship rings, knocked down a 3 from the right wing to give the Spurs a 103-102 lead at the 2:31 mark

Phoenix never regained the lead.

“It was huge. It’s what he does and we will often run things for him to shoot that. … He’s confident with it and he did it again,” Popovich said of Horry.

The Suns scored enough points to win a basketball game, but again, the Spurs got too many good looks, too many open, uncontested shots in the fourth. On Sunday, the Spurs made 71 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter; Tuesday’s numbers were similar: 70.7 percent, or 12 of 17.

“Our guys are pretty new to this,” Nash said, “and I think it shows, not necessarily in the lack of production from our guys but in the super production of their guys.”

Amare Stoudemire poured in a game-best 37 points and Steve Nash had 29 and 15 assists. The NBA’s 2004-05 MVP has four straight playoff games of 25 or more points and 15 or more assists (Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson are the only guys to do it three straight games). Quentin Richardson rebounded from a seven-point outing in Game 1 to score 18, while Steven Hunter scored seven points off the bench.

“Again I thought we played well enough to win,” D’Antoni said.

But they failed to convert in crunch time.

They missed four layups in the final minute. Nash’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark, too.

“Playoff games, the game is so close, just a couple of mistakes and you lose the game. So we didn’t do it,” Ginobili said.

Said Nash: “I still think we were good enough to win a game tonight and if we play as well as we did tonight we have got a great chance to win the next game.

“So we just have to stay positive and hungry and go out there and give ourselves a chance again.”

Both teams had big runs in the first half. The Spurs used a 14-2 spurt to take a 26-13 lead in the first quarter, the biggest lead of the game.

The Suns answered with a 13-0 run to make it 40-38 at the 6:49 mark of the second after Stoudemire hit a short J in the lane. He had eight points during the run, asserting himself with strong inside moves in the paint.

The Suns may face an uphill battle as they try to stave off elimination, but don’t expect them to feel hopeless.

“My confidence is always high,” Stoudemire said. “It’s never going to change as long as I live.

“We just have to go into San Antonio and play extremely hard.”