The Suns, making a valiant effort with a small lineup and a reduced rotation, led most of the way, but wore down at the end. The Spurs prevailed by the Spurs-friendly score of 88-85. Raja Bell of the Suns played 46 minutes, Shawn Marion and Steve Nash 45, season highs for all three not counting a pair of double-overtime games during the regular year.
Now they'll have to recover in time to try to win in the Spurs' gym Friday night, though they'll have Stoudemire and Diaw back. Just as that evil genius David Stern planned it.
Of course I don't really think Stern's an evil genius or that the NBA had a diabolical plan to fix this series. In fact, if the NBA did want to fix this series, it seems to me the league would try to fix it to increase the chances of a win by the far more telegenic Suns, the series going to a highly lucrative seventh game or, preferably, both. Helping the Spurs win Game 5 did neither. The likeliest outcome now is a Spurs victory in six.
But I do think the NBA has a serious problem in that a lot of fans and, more important, former and would-be fans believe the suspensions were part of a pattern of the league trying to manipulate things with rigged officiating and disciplinary rulings. And these people mostly don't make a habit of wearing foil hats.
The commissioner dismissed criticism of his decision to suspend Diaw and Stoudemire on ESPN Radio Wednesday, denying that the league had allowed Robert Horry to change the series in the Spurs' favor by committing a flagrant foul on Nash.
"It's being decided because two Phoenix Suns who knew about the rule forgot about it, couldn't control themselves and didn't have coaches who could control them," Stern said.
And please ignore that the Phoenix coaches did, in fact, control them, and no damage was done when the two left the "bench area," an ill-defined zone that could reasonably include the area where Diaw and Stoudemire reached before being herded back to their seats.
But let's not rehash all that. I hinted at the end of Wednesday's column that I'd lost interest because of the ruling and wouldn't be tuning in, but I couldn't help myself. I'm not sure I would have if I were just a fan, without professional obligations. But I think so.
A Game 5 of a contentious NBA playoff series between the two best teams in the league is probably too compelling to pass up, no matter what bone-headed rulings come down from the suite of a commissioner whose iron-fisted rule over the past few years has undone a lot of good he'd done previously.
It's tempting to say that because the game went down to the wire and the Suns only lost by three, they'd have won if only they'd had Diaw and, especially, Stoudemire available. I'm guessing that's what Suns fans are telling themselves about now.
But it doesn't work that way. The game would have unfolded completely differently. The Suns had Diaw and Stoudemire for Game 1 in Phoenix, after all, and they lost by five, even playing at a Suns-friendly pace that resulted in a final score of 111-106.
Now the Spurs can close it out at home, and if you think you know how this odd series is going to play out, congratulations. I like your foil hat too.
One thing that's happening is the Utah Jazz are resting up, having dispatched the Cinderellas of the spring, the Golden State Warriors, in five games, and gee it's lonely around here without Warriors fans writing in to tell me how their team is legit and didn't just beat the Dallas Mavericks because the Mavs pulled a Brobdingnagian choke job, and only fools can't see that they've got a chance to go all the way.
All things being normal, I don't think the Jazz are good enough to beat either the Suns or the Spurs in a seven-game series, though they may be tough enough if they can exploit the dunderheadedness of the NBA police state and get a couple of opposing stars suspended using the Robert Horry plan, as described in this space Wednesday.
More likely, they could use their fresh legs to steal a Game 1 win on the road against the drained winner of the Spurs-Suns series. I still wouldn't pick the Jazz to reach the Finals in that case, but it's certainly easier to win three out of six than four out of seven.
Meanwhile, over in the other conference, the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers have shown that they're ready to represent the East by losing three straight elimination games.
It's four straight for the East if you want to count the Ottawa Senators losing Game 4 to the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL playoffs. I don't know why you'd want to count that, though. I only mention it so I'll get some letters complaining that I've only written one paragraph about hockey. I'm tired of the letters saying I never write about hockey.
The Cavs and New Jersey Nets may have played the ugliest fourth quarter in the history of fourth quarters -- not to mention the history of ugly -- Wednesday night on the way to the Nets winning 82-73 to pull within 3-2 in the series. The Nets shot 1-for-15 and missed six of 10 free throws in the quarter, and if you're good at math and know that one make wasn't a 3-pointer, you've got that they scored six points. Six. In the fourth quarter. And won the game by 11.
That's because the Cavaliers, down by 18 to start the quarter, bricked up a 3-for-17 of their own and managed 13 points.
At the postgame press conference, Nets guard Jason Kidd, sitting next to teammate Vince Carter, observed that the fourth quarter wasn't pretty. "Both teams were on fire defensively," he deadpanned. "Not on the offensive side."
Carter burst into laughter.
The Pistons have let the Chicago Bulls back into their series in even more spectacular fashion, dropping two straight after winning the first three. One of these four teams is going to have to emerge as the conference champion. Trust me, I've checked the rules. Whoever it is had better be rooting for the Utah Jazz Robert Horry plan to work.
And please ignore that not quite a year ago I was saying similarly derogatory things about the Miami Heat, who for another month are your reigning NBA champions.
Previous column: Asinine suspensions
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