It’s strange, but since he faced off against Tim Duncan in the 1999 NBA Finals as a 26-year-old subbing for the injured Patrick Ewing while a member of the New York Knicks, Kurt Thomas has “gotten a lot older,” while the other guy looks and plays exactly the same.
“Tim has been banged up the last few years (with foot and ankle problems), but he’s healthy now and playing as well as ever,” Thomas said. “He’s doing the same things now he did then, only better.”
But Thomas has a few tricks up his sleeve as well, and mixing up his defensive attack is at least making Duncan work hard, as he did in Game 2 for his 29 points in a 101-81 Suns win.
On one trip down, Thomas will crowd Duncan down low, trying to force him away from his favorite spot to launch a patented 15-foot banker. The next, he will back off, forcing Duncan to drive, with an eye toward beating him to his preferred spot and forcing a less reliable shot.
And he has been very good at slapping the ball, which Duncan holds low before bringing up for a shot or pass, leading to turnovers or at least a disruption of rhythm.
“He’s a tremendous player, and a tough guy to defend,” Thomas said. “You just try to keep him guessing, which isn’t easy because he’s also an extremely smart guy. You can’t get upset when he makes a great move or gets one over you, because when you are thinking about that one he’ll get you again. You just have to stay with it and hope you win your share of the battles.”
NO CALLS FROM NBA
A day after calling the Spurs Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili “dirty”, Amaré Stoudemire declined to apologize for, or expand on his initial comments.
The general feeling around Suns practice was that the Spurs won’t be any more motivated by the comments than they already were. It is the playoffs after all.
Stoudemire did say that no one from the NBA league office had contacted him about the situation and that he wasn’t disappointed in the lack of communication.
“My comments were made (with) no negativity and no bad gestures towards players,” he said.
“I was just being honest, and I’m done with it.”
After originally labeling the entire Spurs team dirty, Stoudemire amended the statement to exclude, among others, Duncan.
The exclusion is supported by the fact that Raja Bell said a Duncan elbow he absorbed in Game 2 was clearly unintentional. Bell staggered to the scorer’s table, flexing his jaw, following the incident.
“You know when someone is trying to hit you, and when it’s just part of the game,” he said.
NASH BREAKING DOWN?
Don’t look now but the aging body of 33-year-old Steve Nash may be on the verge of a breakdown.
At least, that’s what you’d believe if you listened to the talking heads flapping their gums about Nash’s playing time earlier this season.
Nash, however, has shown no signs of slowing down heading into his 84th contest of the year. In two games against the Spurs, he’s scored 51 points and dished out 24 assists.
Both numbers divide out to be higher than his season averages.
“It’s amazing to me,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’s always better in the playoffs. He never breaks down. But if I play him an extra two minutes in the regular season, it’s like I’m committing hara-kiri. He could go 48 (minutes) if we needed him to.”
DEFENSE WINS ...
D’Antoni has been championing his team’s improved defensive prowess all year but said his team took things to a new level in Game 2.
“That was the best defense we’ve ever played,” D’Antoni said. “That kind of effort puts things in very simple terms for us. Do you want to win a championship? Because that’s the only way you win one. . . .
“We’ve seen the blueprint. Now, the question and the challenge is getting to that level three more times.”
Added Bell, “It doesn’t mean anything unless we can duplicate it, unless we can count on it, even when we don’t have our backs to the wall. We can do it, now we have to see if we will.”
The Suns will host today’s Game 3 viewing party at the Native New Yorker in Mesa, 1559 S. Gilbert Road. Suns alumni, dancers and the Gorilla will be there with contests and giveaways beginning at 4 p.m.
The Suns organization has been awarded the 2007 Turnkey PRISM Award in the professional sports category.
The awards are presented by the UMASS Amherst Sport Management department, which recognizes managerial excellence and innovation based on five areas:
managing human resources, marketing, fan development, community relations and customer and client service.
Tribune writer Matt Simpson contributed to this report.