SAN ANTONIO — The Phoenix Suns swept away seven years of bad playoff memories brought by the San Antonio Spurs.
Steve Nash scored 20 points and played with a right eye that was swollen shut as Phoenix swept San Antonio from the Western Conference semifinals with a 107-101 win Sunday night. Amare Stoudemire led the way with 29 points to help the Suns get past the Spurs in the playoffs for the first time in five tries.
“That was ugly,” Suns forward Channing Frye said walking off the court.
Kind of like Nash’s black-and-blue, stitched-up eye.
But it didn’t bother Nash, who scored 10 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to help smother a rally by the Spurs. Nash was accidentally struck by one of Tim Duncan‘s elbows in the third quarter and briefly went to the locker room with a cut underneath his eyebrow.
He came back with an ice pack on his eye when he finally returned to the court. Even then, it wasn’t back into the game right away — first he lay on the court with the ice still on his head.
“He looked like Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini,'” Suns forward Grant Hill said. “It forced him to focus ‘cuz he was shooting out of one eye.”
It was reminiscent of the 2007 West semifinals, when Nash had his nose sliced open when he and Tony Parker collided head-to-head in Game 1. The gash in Nash’s nose bled profusely, and the Suns went on to lose the series.
Not this time.
The Suns are keeping one of the more remarkable stories of the playoffs going. Three months after Phoenix was on the brink of trading Stoudemire and calling it a season, the Suns are returning to the West finals for the first time since 2006.
General manager Steve Kerr has said it would’ve taken an offer “really good for us to break up the team,” and good thing it never came along.
Phoenix sealed its third trip to the West finals since 2005, and gets another crack at returning to the NBA finals for the first time since 1993.
The Suns will either play the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz in the West finals. The Lakers lead that series 3-0, and no team in NBA playoff history has ever come back from that deficit to win.
Add these Spurs to that list.
Parker scored 22 points to lead the Spurs, who were swept out of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. George Hill had 17 points, and was fouled while hitting a 3-pointer with 26.5 seconds left that gave the Spurs a flicker of hope.
The Spurs trailed 103-101 after Hill sank the free throw to complete the four-point play. But Manu Ginobili missed a 3-pointer the next time down, and San Antonio’s season was over seconds later.
It was an abrupt ending for the Spurs, who’ll have a summer to chew on some uncomfortable questions facing the winningest franchise of the last 13 years.
Any season that doesn’t end with a ring is a failure for the four-time champions. The three years since their last title is an eternity in San Antonio and, as has been the case since the 2007 finals, time isn’t on the side of their aging core.
Ginobili, who’ll be 33 next season, signed a three-year extension in March. Duncan will be 35 when his contract is up in 2012. But could the Spurs part with Parker, who enters the summer with an expiring deal worth $13.5 million and a cheaper replacement behind him in Hill?
Back at the All-Star break, it was the Suns who were thinking about the future when a trade of Stoudemire seemed imminent. The Suns instead kept the team together, and Stoudemire got to enjoy beating the Spurs in the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
The Suns had lost to the Spurs four consecutive times in the playoffs since 2003.
Jared Dudley had 16 points and Jason Richardson had 11 for the Suns. Duncan had 17 points, and Ginobili added 15 for the Spurs.
The Suns pulled off their first sweep since ousting Memphis from the first round in 2005. … Texas Gov. Rick Perry had a front-row seat to the Spurs’ exit while sitting next to team owner Peter Holt for the first half.