I watched the game just like everyone else, and yes I would agree that the Suns lost because they couldn’t stop anyone in the final minutes. However that’s just scratching the surface of their problem. I’ve been told time and time again that comparing bench scoring is overrated because it’s usually the starters that do most of the damage. Nonetheless it’s hard to ignore that the Spurs’ reserves have outscored their counterparts 50-21 in this series. The reason the Suns are down 2-0 is their lack of depth.
There are 3 reasons that the teams in the NBA don’t consist of just the best 5 guys. The first is that human beings fatigue. While being a computer technician makes it possible for me to work for a few hours straight with little stoppage, having a profession where I’d have to do something active (like running, jumping or even standing) might make me want to take five every so often. In the first two games of the series the Spurs reserves have given the starters 142 minutes of rest. In contrast, Phoenix’s starting 5 has only been able to recuperate for 76, or nearly half the time. While I don’t have any equations or charts that show what the break-even fatigue point for minutes played, I think it’s safe to say that the Suns have been hurt by not finding enough down-time for their starters. Whether or not it’s cost them a game (or two) is an exercise I leave to the reader.
The second reason NBA rosters expand to 12 is so that the teams can mix and match depending on their opponent. For example, Phoenix is bad at defensive rebounding (ranked 29th out of 30). Now they’re playing the Spurs who have a good offensive rebounder in Nazr Mohammed. When Mohammed is on the court, wouldn’t it be a good idea to put some guys in that could minimize Nazr’s ability to give his team a few extra possessions in which to score? Unfortunately the Suns don’t have those extra guys, and Nazr’s given his team 9 extra chances in two games.
While Phoenix doesn’t have anyone to bring in to address their defensive rebounding woes, this is just one example of a multitude. There’s no big guard on the bench that can come in and shut down Parker or Ginobili. If Mike D’Antoni needs a stop late in the game (yesterday’s for example) there’s no fresh body he can bring off the bench that can man up & force a bad shot. The Suns are locked into one style of play, run up the court to score and pray their opponent misses. So far the Spurs have been able to match them in scoring, and Phoenix has no recourse. In other words the Suns only have a Plan A.
The final reason no team puts out only 5 guys is injuries. The Suns predicament without Johnson reminds me of Superman the Movie. Lois Lane falls out of a helicopter, and Superman makes his first appearance flying up to save her mid-air. The Man of Steal says “I’ve got you”, to which Lois panic-stricken replied “You’ve got me, but who’s got you?!” The Suns did have a (barely adequate replacement) for Johnson with Jackson, but who’s got Jackson? The Suns 2 guards go 2 deep. Sure Q-Rich can switch over to the 2, but then who’s got Q-Rich?
This might be a different series if Joe Johnson didn’t have that facial against the Mavs, but it’s hard to feel bad for Phoenix in this circumstance. Johnson is at best their 5th best player, at a position where it’s not exactly hard in finding talent. Back in December I wrote:
The Suns main weakness is their bench. The Suns 5 starters are averaging 37 minutes a game, because they don’t have good options coming off the bench. If one of their starters hits the IR, the team will loose a good amount of production… Before the trade deadline is over, Bryan Colangelo might have to make that tough decision to sacrifice some of that youth for a better bench for a championship run, because the Suns are in a good position to win one this year.Although they acquired two players Jackson and the usedless Walter McCarty, they didn’t address the bench enough. For the most part they are wasting 4 spots with McCarty, Bo Outlaw, Jake Voskuhl, and Paul Shirley. You could easily throw Barbosa into that list as well. Bench players are relatively easy to find, as the Knicks have a team full of them (drum-roll). Phoenix had the choice to improve their bench, at the cost of a few draft picks or maybe some salary. By opting not to, they might have cost themselves a championship this year.