Facing elimination after a heartbreaking loss, the Phoenix Suns are conceding nothing.
They believe they can win Game 6 on Friday night and bring the tense, taut series back to the desert for Game 7. Phoenix nearly won Game 5 despite playing without All-Star center Amare Stoudemire and key reserve Boris Diaw, leading most of the way before losing 88-85 Wednesday night.
"We have a lot of heart," point guard Steve Nash said. "So this thing, I think, is just heating up."
The Spurs know they must close it out at home.
"We don't want to come back here," said Spurs forward Bruce Bowen, who has become a nemesis to Phoenix fans. "It's going to take a tremendous effort. We know they're going to be ready to go."
Bowen, labeled a dirty player by Stoudemire and the subject of taunts all night from the Phoenix crowd, sank a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 36 seconds to play. That gave the Spurs their first lead since the game's opening six minutes.
"After all the things I was hearing from the sidelines it was great," Bowen said. "The people were calling me choice names I had never heard before."
In the other playoff game, New Jersey beat Cleveland 83-72 to cut the Cavaliers' lead to 3-2. On Thursday, Detroit takes a 3-2 lead into Game 6 of its series against Chicago.
Riding a wave of emotion, the Suns sprinted to a 16-point second-quarter lead. But they couldn't sustain it, and the Spurs patiently whittled away after a disastrous first half in which they shot only 33 percent from the floor.
"We played through a whole lot," said Tim Duncan, who led San Antonio with 21 points and 12 rebounds. "Whatever you attribute it to, a lot of their fans and energy, we just couldn't throw it in the ocean. Come next game, we're going to really have to do a better job of getting a lead in that first quarter."
They'll have to do it against the full Suns lineup &
and a team that seems loaded with confidence despite being on the brink of elimination.
"We'll have a lot more ideas, and we'll show up ready to play," Nash said. "We have a lot of reasons to be confident. We feel like we have a lot left, and it will be nice to have a full team back and see what we can do down there."
Stoudemire and Diaw violated an NBA rule by leaving the bench area after Robert Horry's flagrant foul on Nash in the final seconds of Phoenix's 104-98 victory in Game 4, and were suspended for Game 5.
Horry was suspended two games for his actions.
Without Stoudemire and Diaw, the Suns essentially used a six-man rotation, nearly won a grind-it-out kind of game the Suns aren't supposed to be able to play.
"We left it on the floor," Shawn Marion said. "What more can you ask of this team?"
Ginobili, who had an awful start, scored 15 of his 26 points in the final quarter to rally the Spurs, sinking two free throws to put San Antonio ahead 86-83 with 10.5 seconds to go. Nash badly missed a 3-pointer against Duncan's defense, then Michael Finley made two free throws with 5.5 seconds left to seal the win.
The result stung the Suns and their crowd, who were livid at what they felt was an unjust decision by commissioner David Stern and NBA executive vice president Stu Jackson.
They felt they got the worst of the ruling, even though a Spurs player instigated the incident. Signs in US Airways Center read "Burn Stern," "Stern and Stu Are Dirty Too," and "Free Amare."
The energy overwhelmed the Spurs &
for a while.
"They were like hurt animals," Ginobili said. "They were upset. They were playing with a lot of passion."
Marion had 24 points and 17 rebounds, but scored only four points and took just five shots in the second half. Kurt Thomas, in a strong effort in place of Stoudemire, had 15 points and 12 rebounds. Nash finished with 19 points and 12 assists.
Finley had 13 points and Tony Parker 11.
For the Suns, Raja Bell played 47 minutes, Marion and Nash 46 apiece.
"We played about as hard as we can play," Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni said.
The Suns were misfiring from the outside in the first half &
Nash, Bell and Leandro Barbosa were a combined 5-for-20 &
but they opened a 16-point lead thanks to the rugged play of Thomas and the masterful performance of Marion.
"They did a great job of jumping on us," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "and we did a great job of hanging in there and showing some mental toughness and getting back in the game."
Nets 83, Cavaliers 72
Jason Kidd scored 20 points and New Jersey somehow delayed an early summer vacation with an ugly victory in Cleveland to pull within 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
New Jersey made one field goal and scored just six points in the fourth quarter on 1-of-15 shooting from the field. The Nets were also only 4-of-10 from the free throw line in the final 12 minutes, but hung on for dear life to force a Game 6 on Friday night in East Rutherford, N.J.
Cleveland, which blew a chance to close out the series on its home floor, wasn't much better, shooting just 3-of-17 in the fourth. The Cavaliers played the last 56 seconds without LeBron James, who injured himself tumbling over Cleveland's bench while scrambling for a loose ball with Kidd.
Suns still confident after heartbreaking Game 5 loss