This feature on former NBA forward Shawn Marion appeared in The Leaf Chronicle, a Tennessee newspaper, in May 2005.

Marion frustrated with his shrinking role

Former CHS star wants to help the Suns more on offense, says his low scoring isn’t because of Spurs’ ace defender

Special to The Leaf Chronicle

PHOENIX — Steve Nash grabs the headlines. Amare Stoudemire makes the highlight reel plays. And head coach Mike D’Antoni is widely applauded for turning the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns into this year’s feel-good story in the NBA.

Somewhere in the background, Shawn Marion quietly gets the job done.

It’s what the 1996 Clarksville High grad has done for six steady seasons in the pros — on both ends of the floor.

Or as D’Antoni said recently: “He’s been 20-10 (points and rebounds per game) all his life. And I think he does it just by walking on the floor.”

But for Marion, who’s playing in the NBA’s Western Conference finals for the fist time, this is no time to pat himself on the back for having an All-Star season, no time to brag about his 38-point, 16-rebound performance in the Suns’ 130-126 series-clinching overtime win in the conference semifinals over the Dallas Mavericks on May 20.

After all, the Suns face sink-or-swim time now, trailing the San Antonio Spurs 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is tonight in San Antonio.

“Our backs are to the wall,” Marion said after the Suns’ 111-108 Game 2 defeat Tuesday. “The bright side of it is we’ve got the best (regular-season) record on the road. We just have to go down there and try to get this done on the road.”

To accomplish that goal, the Suns will likely need more offensive production from Marion. He scored a combined 14 points in the first two games of the series, while taking only 17 shots from the field in the process. It was his lowest two-game output of the season.

Which is why it’s not a big surprise that Marion is frustrated.

After making one of six shots in Game 1, Marion offered this assessment of his offensive performance:

“I don’t consider that I had a bad game. I didn’t get a chance to get involved.

“I think I had more rebounds (nine) than shots,” he added. “That’s not good. I think in order for me to help this team I have got to get involved more. Probably wasn’t my night to get the opportunity I wanted, but at the same time I have to get involved.”

Marion issued a similar response after Game 2, a game in which he went 5-for-11 from the field while again being guarded primarily by Spurs defensive ace Bruce Bowen.

“How are you going to say somebody guards somebody when you don’t have any plays? It’s easy to say he stopped me if I shoot 3-for-20, but the offense doesn’t go through me,” said Marion, who took 13 or more shots in each of the previous 10 Suns playoff games before this series.

“It’s a lot easier to stop somebody when you don’t have to play defense on them.”

That said, Bowen is quite familiar with Marion’s ability to alter a game.

“If I turn my head on Shawn, he’s gone,” Bowen said. “You have to be aware of where he is at all times.”

Shawn Marion in 2006. Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The young Suns, who went 29-53 a year ago, are still somewhat of a work in progress, but are a remarkably improved team this year. Their collective playoff experience, however, is slim.

And it’s beginning to show, especially in the fourth quarter of the first two games of this series. San Antonio scored 43 points in Game 1 in the final period, 31 more in Tuesday’s game.

“In the fourth quarter, I don’t know what happened,” Marion said Tuesday. “We were trading baskets with them, but we can’t trade baskets with them. They are too good. We’ve got to get two or three stops in a row, and we weren’t doing that in the fourth.”

In the series, Marion’s defensive role has changed from game to game. He spent most of his time guarding Tim Duncan, the Spurs’ superstar power forward, in Game 1. In the second game, he was more of a freelance defender, hoops’ version of a free safety.

“I started off on (Spurs center) Nazr (Mohammed),” Marion said. “I think I was trapping (Manu) Ginobili and Duncan, and then I was guarding everybody else. I’m just out there trying to help my teammates, trying to be active. And that helped.”

So, too, has Marion’s versatility and willingness to put the team first. Before the season began, Marion’s role with the Suns changed: Though just 6-foot-7 and 228 pounds, he shifted from his natural small forward spot to power forward. Many players would’ve refused to make the move, but not The Matrix. He simply adapted to his new position — and thrived.

Right now, the Suns aren’t thriving. Facing the Spurs has become their biggest challenge of the season.

Which means?

“They’ve still got to beat us two more times,” Marion said, “and there was no cakewalk in these games. So we’ve just got to be pumped and step up.”

And what did the Suns learn from Game 2?

I think we played with great energy,” Marion said. “I think we had a couple mishaps there, but we’ve got something to look at on tape and see a couple plays that we did wrong and go back and get it done.”

Marion and the Suns had three days to contemplate the what-ifs of Game 2.

So what’s Marion’s outlook entering tonight’s critical Game 3?

“I think we’ve got to go there and try to get the first game,” he said. “We’ll worry about the next one after that.”