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Old 11-04-10, 08:53 AM
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mySA: Jefferson puts mark on Suns-Spurs series

By Jeff McDonald

PHOENIX — To Spurs rookie James Anderson, there was no Robert Horry hip-check. There was no Tim Duncan overtime-inducing 3-pointer, no black eye or busted nose for Steve Nash.

As far as Anderson is concerned, his team’s 112-110 victory Wednesday night at the US Airways Center might as well have been the first game ever played between the Spurs and Suns.

“All that stuff was before my time,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t paying attention to it.”

The holdovers from the Spurs’ championship era, however, know how sweet a win in Phoenix can be.

Behind a sizzling fourth-quarter display from a rejuvenated Richard Jefferson, and another big night from Tim Duncan, the Spurs outlasted the Suns to flip the recent trend in one of the NBA’s most contentious rivalries.

Jefferson had 28 points, including four fourth-quarter 3-pointers, and Duncan notched season highs in points (25) and rebounds (17) — and passed Spurs icon George Gervin for 32nd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Together, they helped the Spurs beat Phoenix — once their most consistent punching bag — for just the second time in the past eight meetings.

That includes Phoenix’s four-game sweep of last season’s second-round playoff series that few in silver in black had forgotten. Jefferson helped the Spurs (3-1) forget May a little, putting together perhaps the best shooting performance of his San Antonio tenure.

He finished with his second-highest scoring night in a Spurs uniform, topped only by a 29-point performance in a win over Dallas on Nov. 11.

“He’s been like night and day over last year,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

So are the Suns, who fell to 1-3 against an early-season slate packed with playoff teams. With Amare Stoudemire — once a central figure in the series — now playing in New York, this Phoenix team isn’t the same Phoenix team.

Hedo Turkoglu and Hakim Warrick just don’t provide the same punch that Stoudemire, a five-time All-Star, once did.

Steve Nash, certainly, misses his old pick-and-roll partner, even if it didn’t always look like it Wednesday.

“They’ve made a lot of baskets together, won a lot of games together,” Duncan said. “They changed how the Suns play basketball together. I know they miss each other in that respect.”

If, as Popovich once said, the breakup of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles once felt like the fall of the Soviet Union, the parting of ways between Nash and Stoudemire in Phoenix was akin to the breakup of Yugoslavia.

If Nash missed Stoudemire, nowhere was that more evident than on a play in the second quarter. Driving to the basket, Nash tossed the same lob the Spurs have seen roughly 8,000 times, only instead of Stoudemire slamming it home for a dunk, the ball bounced off the glass, hit earthbound rookie Garret Siler in the hands and became a turnover.

Nash seemed lost in other ways, too, finishing with 19 points and seven assists but shooting a dreadful 8 of 22.

Still, the Suns had their chances — not to mention four different leads — in a wild fourth quarter.

Enter Jefferson, who buried three consecutive 3-pointers from the same spot in the left corner to give the Spurs a 103-97 edge with 6:11 to play.

After the Suns held the Spurs without a basket for the next 4:33, it was Jefferson who broke the drought, nailing his fourth three from the same spot.

“This team has revamped,” Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said. “They’re looking at a situation where they’re feeling like they’ve got a few more runs in them with this group. They’ve got to take advantage of it right now.”

Against an old rival in its own state of transition, the Spurs did just that Wednesday.
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