One-Eyed Steve Nash Leads Suns to West Finals

By the time the Phoenix Suns open the Western Conference finals, Steve Nash figures he'll see out of his swollen and stitched-up right eye again.

Tim Duncan gave him quite a pop.

The Suns gave the San Antonio Spurs a knockout slug right back.

"I can't see out of it. It doesn't want to open," Nash said. "I'm just fortunate I had the chance to get back out there."

Nash needed six stitches under his right eyebrow after taking an errant elbow from Duncan, then returned to score 10 of his 20 points in the fourth to help the Suns finish off a sweep of the Spurs in the West semifinals with a 107-101 win Sunday night.

Nash could only see out of his left eye when he came back. The other had swollen completely shut, purplish and bruised and partially bandaged.

"I'm not a doctor, but I imagine we have a week," Nash said. "Hopefully the swelling should go down in a week, or at least enough that I can see out of it."

The Suns will face either the Los Angeles Lakers or the Utah Jazz. The Lakers lead that series 3-0, and no team in NBA playoff history has ever come back from that deficit to win.

Add these Spurs to that list.

The season came to an abrupt end for San Antonio, which will have a summer to chew on some uncomfortable questions facing the winningest franchise of the past 13 years.

Any season that doesn't end with a ring is a failure for the four-time champions. The three years since their last title is in an eternity in San Antonio and, as has been the case since the 2007 finals, time isn't on the side of their aging core.

"We thought from our past experience that we could do some things to control the series, but they just outplayed us," Duncan said. "All in all, they just outplayed us."

Sweeping the Spurs was long-awaited redemption for the Suns, who had been booted from the playoffs by San Antonio four times since 2003. It also kept one of the more remarkable stories of the playoffs going.

Three months after Phoenix was on the brink of trading Amare Stoudemire and calling it a season, the Suns are returning to the West finals for the first time since 2006 and the third time since 2005. They're still trying to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 1993.

Stoudemire, who led Phoenix with 29 points, is the only Suns player who was on each of those Spurs-ousted teams over the past seven years. But rather than rejoice, Stoudemire coolly walked off the court.

There's still work to do.

"We weren't sure whether I was going to be in Phoenix or not," Stoudemire said. "I feel great about not leaving."

He felt even better about Nash coming back Sunday night.

Nash emerged from the locker room with an ice pack on his eye when he finally returned to the court. Even then, it wasn't back into the game right away - first he lay on the court with the ice still on his head.

"He looked like Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini,"' Suns forward Grant Hill said. "It forced him to focus 'cuz he was shooting out of one eye."

It was reminiscent of the 2007 West semifinals, when Nash had his nose sliced open when he and Tony Parker collided head-to-head in Game 1. The gash in Nash's nose bled profusely, and the Suns went on to lose the series.

Not this time.

"This win was real sweet. He's been waiting to get this done and couldn't be happier for a class, class, class guy," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I hate him, but he's classy.

Parker scored 22 points to lead the Spurs, who were swept out of the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

"Obviously I'm very sad and very mad that we lost, but at the same time I'm happy for Nash and (Amare) Stoudemire," Parker said. "Because every year they played hard against us and it never went their way. This year, it went their way."
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