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O'Neal makes presence felt as Suns edge Spurs

Mar 10, 2008 - 12:09 AM PHOENIX (Ticker) -- For most of the game, Shaquille O'Neal did his job against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. Amare Stoudemire finished it off.

O'Neal collected 14 points and 16 rebounds while swarming Duncan on the defensive end and Stoudemire was big down the stretch as the Phoenix Suns pulled out a much-needed 94-87 victory over the Spurs on Sunday afternoon.

Stoudemire had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Steve Nash added 19 and 14 assists for the Suns, who finished the game on a decisive 14-2 run en route to just their fourth win in 10 games since plugging O'Neal into the lineup after a blockbuster trade on February 6.

"A lot of teams have size in the West, and we added size, let alone a guy with championship experience," Nash said. "One win we are not going to say we are a finished product, but we are on our way to improving and getting to feeling confident with the playoffs coming up."

O'Neal was brought in from the Miami Heat to defend the West's elite big men, such as Duncan, who has given Phoenix fits in the past. On Sunday, Duncan scored just 17 points on 6-of-19 shooting.

"Things haven't been going great, but it's not like teams have been beating us. We have turned the ball over a lot and tonight we played pretty good defense," O'Neal said. "That type of team, if you double down, they become almost impossible to beat because everyone gets off, so I told coach let me guard (Duncan), let Amare guard him then we will see."

"That is kind of why we did this," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It is different. Plus, you have a 7-1 and then Amare coming from the weak side you have to shoot over both of them. That is what we were missing before."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich supported the move.

"When you lose some games, you get criticized," Popovich said. "But we are smart enough as coaches to ignore most of the criticism. The last thing Mike D'Antoni has to worry about is fans who are not knowledgeable, who react childishly.

"He is a (heck) of a coach, and the criticism he got around here is just ignorant."

The 7-1 O'Neal also made his presence felt on the offensive end, hitting 6-of-11 shots - mostly from point-blank range.

"They need me to score some points they know they can throw me the ball, but I am not going to be demanding the ball all the time," O'Neal said. "We have a lot of options on this team."

But it was O'Neal's new protege, Stoudemire, who came up big in the fourth quarter. He nailed 1-of-2 free throws to give the Suns their first lead of the final period, 86-85, with 2:29 left in the game.

On Phoenix's next possession, Stoudemire corralled an offensive rebound and was fouled on the putback attempt. He then nailed two free throws to give his team a three-point lead.

"Despite the bad shooting, we got this win defensively," Stoudemire said. "We normally shoot better from the field but, defensively, we did a great job. At the end, they committed fouls, and we knocked free throws down the stretch. Shaq and I tried to control the paint, so it was a great win."

Manu Ginobili nailed a tough floater to make it 88-87, but the Suns scored the final six points of the game, capping their decisive spurt with Nash's two free throws with 18.7 ticks left.

"Missed shots were a big part of the game," Ginobili said. "Duncan missed a couple of easy ones, I missed two layups. So, when the game is close, it often comes down to making shots and not turning the ball over. We turned the ball over while they made shots."

In the first half, D'Antoni gave Nash his customary rest, allowing the Spurs back into the contest. San Antonio went on an 11-2 run to take a 28-22 lead on Ginobili's 3-pointer early in the second.

When Nash returned, the Suns settled down, but a 3-pointer by Ime Udoka with 45.6 left in the second gave San Antonio a 48-45 lead at the half.

Phoenix led most of the way in the third, but a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Bruce Bowen gave San Antonio a 70-69 advantage entering the fourth. The Suns then outscored the Spurs, 25-17, in the final 12 minutes to secure the victory.

"We missed too many layups. We needed to make shots it as simple as that," Duncan said. "Playing them now is a lot different. They play a different style, they are not as fast but, in the same respect, they are better defensively and rebounding wise."

Ginobili had 22 points and Tony Parker added 21 for San Antonio, which has lost two straight after an 11-game winning streak.

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