AN ANTONIO — Here's the latest prediction in a series full of mind games:
"I'm guaranteeing Game 6," said Suns coach Frank Johnson after his team fell, 94-82, in Game 5 on Tuesday night.
But Johnson's "guarantee" seemed to have the hollow sound of somebody following a format.
Fellow Wake Forest product Tim Duncan had already forecast two straight wins for the Spurs in Games 5 and 6 after the Suns had managed a split of the first four games.
And, before Tuesday's game, Johnson said he told the Suns, "We're going to win. I feel we've found a rhythm."
Johnson also talked about how the Spurs, as the NBA's top-seeded team, bear the pressure of winning the series, not the Suns.
"There's certainly more pressure on them to try to close us out," he said.
The psychological battle can have an effect, at least if you win, said Steve Smith, the Spurs' 12-year veteran.
"Whenever they won, they got in our heads," said Smith. "And whenever we win, we're in their heads.
"But no matter who says what, the game is still played between the lines."
J.J. SLIDES BACK AGAIN
Joe Johnson has had an up-and-down series, just like he had an up-and-down season. Usually, he stays "up" or "down" for some time, Frank Johnson suggested before Tuesday's game.
So after Johnson's big fourth quarter, a key to the Suns' comeback win in Game 4 on Sunday, the Suns were hoping the second-year player would stay on the "up" side for a while. But it didn't work out that way. Johnson shot 0-for-5, sometimes missing badly, in 12 ineffective minutes.
IT'S NEVER OVER . .
No matter how big a lead the Spurs build, they find it nearly impossible to put the Suns away. On Sunday, it was 12 points, but the Suns came back and won with a small lineup.
The Suns, who were being outrebounded badly, didn't try a small lineup again until the start of the second quarter Tuesday, and then they already were down 27-14. Frank Johnson deemed it ineffective, as the Suns trailed 54-30 at halftime.
Then, he used a pressure defense featuring Bo Outlaw and Amare Stoudemire up front, alongside Shawn Marion, Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway.
The Suns promptly forced four turnovers and sprinted off on a 17-3 run that cut the lead to 59-49 and had the Spurs' heads spinning.
"There's no way to describe that," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Then he tried. "Abysmal in every way. Very, very bad."
Said the Spurs' Malik Rose, "They really come after you and are just a great team. You have to give them credit for the way they execute their game plan."
Popovich displayed his coach-of-the-year award before the game before applauding fans. . . . Stephen Jackson, struggling with a sore knee and ankle, had to leave the game early. The Spurs expect him to play Thursday in Phoenix.