PHOENIX -- Sore hip? What sore hip?
After resting his strained right hip for three days, Steve Nash had 33 points and 10 assists, and the Phoenix Suns broke their Game 1 curse against the San Antonio Spurs with a 111-102 victory on Monday night in the opener of their Western Conference semifinal series.
Any doubt that Nash would be slowed by the injury ended in the early minutes of the game, when the Victoria guard made his five shots, including an array of twisting, swivelling drives to the hoop. He had 17 points by the end of the first quarter.
"He ran it down our throat," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.
"He kind of just picked us apart," added San Antonio's Tim Duncan.
Jason Richardson scored 27 and Amare Stoudemire had 23 points and 13 rebounds for the Suns.
Manu Ginobili, tape across his broken nose, scored 27, Tony Parker 26 and Duncan 20 for the Spurs, who had won three straight Game 1s against the Suns, two of them in Phoenix. Both of those times, in 2005 and 2007, the Spurs went on to win the NBA title.
"You can't get too excited," Stoudemire said. "They're a team with a great pedigree that knows how to come back in a series."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night in Phoenix.
In the second half, the situation seemed ripe for another of those San Antonio daggers to the Suns' heart.
Twice San Antonio rallied from 14 back, with a 12-0 run in the third quarter and a mighty 13-0 outburst that sliced Phoenix's lead to 94-93 on Ginobili's seven-foot runner with 4:26 to go in the game.
These Suns had whatever it took to withstand the charge.
"That's really frustrating when that happens," Ginobili said, "especially the second time. ... Against these guys, with the level of confidence they're playing at, you just can't blink."
Stoudemire sank two free throws, then after Keith Bogans and Parker missed three-pointers, Grant Hill made two from the line to put the Suns ahead 98-93.
Parker's 19-footer cut it to 98-95 with 3:38 left, then Richardson brought the house down with a three-pointer to make it 103-95 with 1:23 left. After Parker's two free throws cut it to 103-97, Hill made a 13-foot jumper with 51 seconds left, and the Suns put it away by making six of eight free throws from there.
"When we did get back into it, we gave up a bunch of points in transition," Duncan said, "and that's the best transition team in the league."
Nash hurt his hip in a shootaround before Game 3 of the first-round series against Portland, and the injury bothered him greatly in the deciding Game 6 last Thursday. The team had Friday off, then he sat out practice Saturday and Sunday.
The rest did wonders.
"You never know what the game is going to present," Nash said. "You have to be willing and aggressive and do whatever you can. For me, I didn't know how I was going to feel physically, but dragging my leg around in Game 6 in Portland wasn't very fun and it was great to get out there and feel like I could do something."
The Spurs had to rely on their veteran big three, without much help, to stay in the game. George Hill managed just nine points on 2-of-9 shooting and struggled defensively. Richard Jefferson had five points and three rebounds in 33 minutes.
The Spurs had never led before that 12-0 outburst put them up 67-64 with 7:25 left in the third quarter. Ginobili, his nose broken by an elbow from Dirk Nowitzki in Game 3 of the first round, started and ended the run with 3-pointers.
Richardson responded with a three and it was 67-all. After two more ties, Nash scored on a squirming inside move, then handed out assists on the next three baskets in a 10-0 Phoenix run that put the Suns ahead 83-73. It was 85-75 entering the fourth.
Stoudemire scored the first four points of the final quarter to stretch the lead to 89-75 and it was 94-80 with 8:10 to go after Lou Amundson made one of two free throws. Yet here came the Spurs again, this time led by Duncan.
He scored seven in the 13-0 surge that almost caught Phoenix.
Nash dominated immediately after the opening tip, making his first five shots, dribbling around George Hill repeatedly for layups. He finished with 17 first-quarter points on 7-of-10 shooting. Nash wrapped up the quarter with a pair of three-point plays.
"We came in the mindset that we were going to push the basketball," Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry said, "and that if we pushed the basketball like we thought we could, Steve would get the ball to the basket."
Phoenix outshot San Antonio 56 per cent to 42 per cent in the first half yet the Spurs were lurking within striking distance, down 57-47.
NOTES: Suns C Robin Lopez says he isn't ready yet to return but expects to play in the series. He's been out since March 26 with a back injury (bulging disk). ... Nash's career playoff high is 48 points against Dallas on May 15, 2005. ... The Spurs are 20-10 in playoff games against Phoenix in the Duncan era. ... Nash is 6-0 in the playoffs when he has at least 30 points and 10 assists. .... The fans were given orange T-shirts that red "It's R Turn." The team's marketing slogan this season was "R U Orange?" ... San Antonio missed five three-pointers in the final four minutes and wound up 4 of 19 from long range.