Sunday, May 20, 2007

Very True (Steve Kerr is The Man)

San Antonio's star power
By Steve Kerr
Saturday, May 19, 2007 3:43 am EDT
Courtesy Yahoo Sports

When we look at NBA history, a common theme among NBA champions is the presence of star tandems. Cousy and Russell. Magic and Kareem. Bird and McHale. Jordan and Pippen.
The idea is that if you can put two superstars together, you've got a chance to win it all, at least in theory. When the San Antonio Spurs won their first NBA title, most of the credit -- rightfully so -- went to a pair of Hall of Fame big men, David Robinson and Tim Duncan. But since Robinson's retirement in 2003, it has been a different, very unlikely tandem that has made the Spurs the most consistent team in the NBA: Duncan and ... Bruce Bowen?

Yes, I know it doesn't have much of a ring to it (so to speak), and the names don't exactly conjure up images of West and Chamberlain. But watching San Antonio beat the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 on Friday to win the series, it was clear that Duncan and Bowen have become the most important tandem in the NBA.

I know Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are great players and are the keys to the team's success, but Duncan and Bowen define the Spurs. They're incredible defensive players -- one inside and one outside -- and their relentlessness on every possession gives opponents fits trying to score the ball.

Ultimately, the combination of Bowen's perimeter defense and Duncan's rim protection is the reason San Antonio is who it is. No matter the opponent, all Gregg Popovich has to do is put Bowen on the best perimeter player and Duncan on the best inside man, and the Spurs have an advantage.

Dirk, Carmelo, Cassell, Nash -- Bowen will take them all. Duncan will cover Shaq, Stoudemire, Garnett, etc. Bowen will harass, bother, intimidate and chop away at his opponent for every second he's on the floor, never once taking a rest. And on the rare occasion that he gets beaten to the hole, Duncan is there waiting to help.

San Antonio's defense on Steve Nash in this series was a clinic. Bowen picked him up past half court, worked him side to side, stayed with him everywhere and had help coming from Duncan constantly. The other Spurs stayed at home on three-point shooters, so in many ways the game evolved into Nash and Amare Stoudemire against Bowen and Duncan.

Nash didn't get his customary three or four layups per game because of Duncan's positioning and long arms. And with Bowen harassing him, Nash hardly had any room for perimeter shots. As for Stoudemire, he scored well, but he had to work for his points. And most importantly, no one else had any room.

San Antonio basically said, "We're relying on Bowen and Duncan. Let's see if you can beat us." And the Suns couldn't. They were close, and if the Game 5 suspensions didn't occur, they might have pulled it off. But ultimately, they couldn't play the way they're used to playing, which is to run and make threes.

Even though Phoenix scored 100 or more points in five of the series' six games, it didn't do it the way it normally does. After averaging 10 made three-pointers per game in the regular season, Phoenix made a total of 37 in this series. Normally when a team takes away the Suns' shooting, there's no one to contain Nash on the inside, but Bowen bothered him from end line to end line, wearing him down just to the point where, even though Nash was great, he wasn't spectacular.
There's been a lot of talk this week about how boring the Spurs are, and how fans across the country don't really want to see them advance in the playoffs. Perhaps that's because their style isn't the most entertaining, or because they don't have any major personalities on the team. Or maybe it's because they're being led by the tandem of Duncan and Bowen. There have been plenty of championship teammates who brought more flash and glamour than those two. But there may never have been a pair who could defend like the Spurs' duo. And that's why San Antonio is moving on.

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