Fri, Jun 03, 2005 - Page 24 News List

San Antonio repels Phoenix's last stand

NBA The Phoenix Suns succumbed to the experience and defensive savvy of the San Antonio Spurs, who took a 101-95 victory to win the Western Conference final 4-1

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , PHOENIX

There were only minutes left in the NBA's only certifiably magical season, and the young owner of the very young Phoenix Suns would not let it go without one more act of exuberance, the kind that comes with unexpected success.

The Suns were trailing by five points with a little more than five minutes left in their storied run. So Robert Sarver, the rookie owner, stood and took the microphone during a timeout.

"We stand for the rest of this game!" Sarver implored the America West Arena crowd on Wednesday night. "Don't sit!"

His employees provided the added incentive. Amare Stoudemire dunked several times with passion, Jim Jackson made a big 3-pointer, and everyone stood and pushed the decibel meters. It was the final bit of noise the Suns would make at the end of a very noisy season.

After a 62-victory campaign that no one saw coming, and a deep playoff run, the Suns finally succumbed to the experience and defensive savvy of the San Antonio Spurs. The Suns never got closer than three points down the stretch, and the Spurs took a 101-95 victory to win the Western Conference final, 4-1.

As they left the Arizona desert, the Spurs could be seen wiping their brows in relief.

"I'm thrilled we don't have to play them again," coach Gregg Popovich said.

San Antonio is heading to the NBA final for third time in seven years. They won championships in 1999 and 2003, the only team other than the Los Angeles Lakers with multiple titles since the breakup of the Chicago Bulls' dynasty.

Stoudemire, who used this series as his coming-out party, was again dominant, amassing 42 points and 16 rebounds. But the Spurs' Tim Duncan was just as effective, with 31 points, 15 rebounds and several key plays that helped secure the victory.

After the Suns cut the deficit to 93-90 with 2 minutes 19 seconds to play, Duncan tipped in his own missed shot. A minute later, Duncan exploited the Suns' double-team by zipping a pass to an open Tony Parker underneath the basket. Parker hit the layup for a 97-90 lead with 50 seconds left, and the Suns ran out of time and good fortune.

"We just ran into a better team," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We did a lot of great things. We hope it's just the first step."

No one predicted the Suns would make it this far after a 29-victory season a year ago. But the arrival of Steve Nash last summer turned them into instant contenders, and the future is bright. Among the starters, only Nash is older than 30. The average age of the other four -- Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, Quentin Richardson and Joe Johnson -- is 24.3.

The Spurs have a week to rest before the final starts June 9. Their opponent will be Detroit or Miami, who have split the first four games of the Eastern Conference final.

It is sure to be a dramatically different series than this offensively charged series was. The Suns pushed the pace as they had all season, and the Spurs played along with them. They were better by only a handful of points in four of the five games.

"They're an amazing offensive team," Duncan said.

After watching the 22-year-old Stoudemire average 37 points in the series -- the highest ever for a player making his conference final debut -- the Spurs were suitably impressed.

"Just knowing that he's going to get even better, it's kind of scary," Duncan said.

After Sarver's speech, Stoudemire scored eight consecutive Phoenix points and threw down a pair of thunderous dunks. He had 17 in the final quarter, and the Suns twice cut the lead to three points. They had lost control for good in the third quarter, however.

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