NBA: New Orleans puts Spurs in uncomfortable spot
By Elizabeth White
SAN ANTONIO ó Consecutive third-quarter breakdowns. Tough nights for their top players. And now, an 0-2 deficit to a young and athletic team.
Itís all happening to the San Antonio Spurs, the defending NBA champions.
The Spurs, who came into this series looking like their usual dominant selves after dispatching the Phoenix Suns in just five games, are struggling against the New Orleans Hornets and searching for answers before Thursdayís Game 3.
iItís always a worry when youíre down two, no matter what it is,î Tim Duncan said after the Game 2 blowout loss. iObviously the goal is to get four games, and theyíre a lot closer than we are. So itís about going home and getting this first one. Thatís the most important thing to come, and we worry about things after that. I know itís cliche, but weíve just got to take it one game at a time and try to worry about whatís in front of us next.î
Itís the Hornets that remain squarely in front of the Spurs as they try to win back-to-back titles for the first time. Each of the last three times the Spurs have sought to defend a title, theyíve been eliminated in the conference semifinals or earlier.
The last time the Spurs were down 0-2 was 2001, when they were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals. The first two losses of that series were at home.
It may not be panic time yet. San Antonio has a chance to even the series with two victories at home.
iI think everyoneís going to bring a different level of intensity and different level of focus without even having to say anything,î Duncan said. iSo itís a great situation and a great team to have like that, and weíre just going to have to do it all together and put it on the floor together.î
The Hornets, led first by David West and then Chris Paul, have so far made that pretty tough for San Antonio.
iWhen you beat the defending champions by 18 and 19 points the first two games, No. 1 it shows how good you are as a basketball team, but I think it kind of shows people around the league that what weíve done this year hasnít been a fluke from Day 1,î New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. iWe are for real, and weíve got a very good basketball team.î
Scott said heís confident his squad can get a win in San Antonio, where the Spurs lost just seven games this season, including one to the Hornets.
iWeíre in a groove right now. Weíre playing good basketball, and we hit our stride at the right moment,î said Hornets center Tyson Chandler. iI donít know if thereís been a time this year where weíve been consistent the way we are right now on both ends of the floor.î
The Spurs have also been in the Hornetsí position, only to go on to lose a series. In 2004, San Antonio was up 2-0 against the Lakers before losing the next four in the conference semifinals.
iI still think people, even though weíre up 2-0, still think weíre going to lose the series,î Scott said. iWhat weíve done is get everybodyís attention.î
In Games 1 and 2, the third quarter was pivotal. On Monday, the Hornets outscored the Spurs 36-18 in the third period; in Game 1, it was 29-17.
Duncan had a career playoff-low five points and just three rebounds in Game 1. He scored 18 points in Game 2, but Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili struggled, combining to shoot 9-for-24 from the field for 24 points. Ginobili also had five of the Spursí 15 turnovers.
iWeíre playing against a very good team, and twice theyíve done the same thing,î Parker said. iThey jumped on us in the third quarter. From there, you know, weíve had a hard time coming back. We just have to find a way to play better in the second half, especially the third quarter.î
Duncan said the key for the Spurs will be to play better defense ó something thatís always been San Antonioís specialty and the word that ends each team huddle.
iWe have to find a way to get stops and play off of that,î he said. iThatís how our team always works ó try to get some stops and try to push it back at them ó and we seem to, every time we do get a stop, theyíre on the offensive glass and making plays. Weíve got to find a way to counter that a little bit better.î
Chandler said the Hornets will focus on keeping Parker and Ginobili away from the rim for easy layups. And doubling Duncan has worked so far for New Orleans, leaving the Spurs to go to outside shooters instead.
iOur whole game plan is to keep them out of our paint,î Chandler said. iAs long as we keep Tony and Ginobili out and keep their guys shooting jump shots, weíll be all right.î