Spurs Stop Comeback Cold, Ensure That Suns Fade Away

Times Staff Writer

The Boston Red Sox came back from 0-3 last fall. The New York Islanders did it in 1975 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942.

The Phoenix Suns? They came up a little short, managing only to avoid the sweep in San Antonio before coming home Wednesday night with hopes flying, running out of gas and succumbing to inevitability dressed in the silver and black of the Spurs, who won, 101-95, to finish the Western Conference finals, 4-1.

The Spurs, who won NBA titles in 1999 and 2003, are going back to the Finals for the third time with Tim Duncan. It might have been four if Derek Fisher’s miracle shot hadn’t answered Duncan’s miracle shot in last spring’s second-round loss to the Lakers.


The Spurs will get seven days off before the June 9 start of the Finals while the Heat and Pistons determine their opponent. Also, to the delight of Coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs won’t have to see the high-scoring Suns, who averaged 104 points on his once-proud defense, with 22-year-old Amare Stoudemire averaging 37 points, the best debut in a conference final in NBA history, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 34.2 in 1970.

“I’m very happy we don’t have to play these guys again,” Popovich said. “I don’t know what to do with him [Stoudemire]. He’s just unbelievable. He’s a really unique player. He’s going to get better. I don’t know what he can do, score 60?”

Without their usual defense going, the Spurs were reduced to trying to shoot it out with the Suns, worrying Popovich, who noted, “They’re better than us offensively.”

Not in this series. The Spurs averaged 110 points, led by Duncan’s 27.4. After his shaky Game 5, in which he scored 15 points and missed nine of 12 free throws, Duncan came back Wednesday with 31 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. He made three of four free throws.

“Tim Duncan was a possessed individual,” Popovich said. “You would never know it from looking at his face or talking to him. I haven’t talked to him for two days. I just leave him alone when he has a game like he did the other night. And he doesn’t need anybody to talk to him, especially a coach.”

Momentum in the series, which the Spurs owned for three games, seemed to turn around when the Suns won Game 4 in San Antonio, coming back here with Joe Johnson healthy again.


If the Suns won this one, anything could happen in Game 6, by which time the Spurs might be getting nervous. And, of course, Game 7 would be in Phoenix.

ESPN, broadcasting the game, gave it the big treatment, flashing “Another Great Comeback Continues” on the screen during its introduction, complete with footage of the Red Sox coming back against the Yankees and the U.S Olympic hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice.”

Assuredly, the U.S. Olympic hockey team wasn’t down, 3-0, to the Soviet Union in 1980. However, if the Suns came back, this would be a moment to remember, just like that one.

In came the grinches, all dressed in black.

This was a grinding-type Spur game, rather than the high-energy, freewheeling one the Suns wanted. Phoenix still led, 50-49, at halftime after a monster first half by Steve Nash (18 points, six assists, eight for 11 from the floor.)

Nash then flamed out in the third quarter, missing his first four shots and turning the ball over three times. The Suns missed 13 of their first 15 shots, and the Spurs went ahead by 13.

With Stoudemire showing again that the Spurs couldn’t guard him, the Suns rallied, cutting it to 93-90 on Jimmy Jackson’s three-point basket with 2:19 left.

The Spurs called timeout. The new Phoenix owner, Robert Sarver, who won’t get operational control for two more years but makes up for it in visibility, got a microphone and announced to the crowd, “This team has been busting its butt for 102 games! Nobody sits until this game is over!”

Cedric Ceballos, the onetime Laker and the emcee in charge of leading cheers, screamed into his mike, “Do you believe?”

The Spurs scored the next two baskets on Duncan’s rebound of his own miss and Tony Parker’s layup off a Duncan pass. The rally and the Suns faded away.

“In some ways, we got almost all we could ask for out of this season, except the one thing we really wanted,” Nash said. “Joe went down and going from 29 wins [last season] to 62 and playing a championship team in the Western Conference finals, maybe it was too much for us.”