Excerpt from the official box score in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Rockets and Suns - “Kevin JOHNSON G: MIN 48, FG 18, FGA 24, 3P 2, 3PA 2, FT 5, FTA 7, OR 0, DR 6, A 9, PF 3, ST 3, TO 1, PTS 43.”
I realize writers are supposed to communicate in words, not numbers, but if you’re looking for a better line than the above on the Suns’ 114-110 victory Sunday, you’re going to have to get yourself another writer.
Like maybe Shakespeare or Milton. Even Michael Jordan doesn’t write them much better.
Indeed, given the “must” nature of this game, it certainly was one of the greatest lines ever authored by a Sun.
In a game the Suns had to win or else (as in or else face a deja vu they definitely didn’t want to experience all over again), KJ did it all. Break down the defense with penetration, hit the spot-up shot, run the offense, make good decisions, get some key rebounds, whatever.
Such was the total brilliance of his performance that one could be pardoned one’s provinciality for thinking that if there is a better point guard on the planet, he must be from another planet.
“He’s having a great series,” Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich said, “and he stepped up big today.”
How big did he step up? Bigger than Hakeem Olajuwon. Believe me, that’s big!
Olajuwon scored 38 points and might have scored 48 if the Suns hadn’t surrounded him in the final 5 minutes and/or he hadn’t run out of gas.
For a time, it appeared the game would come down to whether KJ could foul out Houston’s little guys before Hakeem fouled out Phoenix’s big guys, but what it actually turned on was that the Suns found a way to deal with Hakeem before the Rockets found a way to deal with KJ.
Ordinarily, when you already have the home-court advantage, not to mention the better team, a victory on the road is considered more of a luxury than a necessity.
But the last two playoff series between these teams have been anything but ordinary. And given the size of the egg the Suns laid Saturday, a case could be made for the proposition the Suns needed this game as much as the Rockets.
You’d certainly get no argument from KJ on that.
Asked the deja vu question, he said: “It crossed my mind Saturday night that if we didn’t win Sunday, it really would be ‘Here we go again.’ That’s why I approached this as a Game 7. You give a team like this too much life and you create a monster.
“This year, we were able to win Game 4 and go up 3-1. Last year, we couldn’t. And I think you have to say history taught this team a lesson.”
And the lesson lingers on.
Asked how important it is that the Suns close out the series tonight in Phoenix, KJ replied: “Imperative! Of the essence! Vital!”
Actually, the Suns created a pretty fair-sized monster Saturday in an embarrassing (well, they would have been embarrassed if they’d been awake) 33-point loss.
By the time that game ended, the Rockets must have thought of themselves as the reincarnation of the great Celtics and Lakers teams combined, and the feeling carried over Sunday as they laid some fearsome early licks on the Suns.
“They came out playing great,” said KJ, “but this time we kind of weathered the storm. I thought for us the whole game was predicated on staying with them through the first two periods. They hit all those 3s (including one by Sam Cassell that should have been a 5) and still we were only 10 down.”
The game reinforced the notion the Suns will only go as far as KJ’s tender hamstring permits him to take them.
“It feels pretty good right now,” he said, “but I don’t feel I’m totally out of the woods yet. I still have to get acupuncture twice a week. A lot of people want to say acupuncture is what did it, and maybe it is. But I have to think those five days off between series helped me immensely.”
Given that the likelihood of any more five-day rests is slim, the Suns better hope it’s the acupuncture.
xxxx NBA PLAYOFFS Today’s games Bulls-Magic, 4 p.m. (TNT) Lakers-Spurs, 6:30 (TNT) Rockets-Suns, 7:30 (TBS)
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