SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs will have to find another way to beat the Phoenix Suns. Tim Duncan won't be the immediate answer. With Duncan sidelined, the defending champions were weakened inside. The Suns took advantage and won 72-70 Saturday in the opener of their first-round playoff series.
Duncan, the Spurs' leading scorer and MVP of last year's NBA finals, missed the final four regular-season games with torn cartilage in his left knee. He'll be on the bench again for Game 2 Tuesday night. "He's just not ready to go," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said following Sunday's workout. "We're going to treat him like the Sean Elliott's situation. If we're going to err, it will be on the side of caution."
Elliott missed most of the season recovering from a kidney transplant. With Duncan out, the Suns were able to double-team David Robinson after he got into early foul trouble. Samaki Walker replaced Duncan and had 13 points and 16 rebounds in his first career playoff game.
"How we're doing in the playoffs has nothing to do with Tim playing," Popovich said. "We won't play him until he's ready." The Spurs are starting to adjust to Duncan's absence.
"It was a distraction the Portland game (Spurs' first game after Duncan's injury) -- that game caught us off guard," Avery Johnson said. "Since then, we've known that he'd be out for some time so we just go do the best we can."
There is no timetable for Duncan's return. With added time for the first round of the playoffs, Game 3 won't come until Saturday in Phoenix. "I'm going to play when I am ready and it doesn't matter what is going on," Duncan said. "I just want to be out there. It's not something I can force myself to play."
The Suns have their own injury woes. They have had more time to adjust to the loss of guard Jason Kidd, out since March 22 with a broken left ankle. Kevin Johnson came out of retirement late in the season and despite little regular-season playing time contributed 25 minutes in Game 1. "I told Scott that I was no better than 70 percent," Kevin Johnson said. "I put the entire decision in his hands." Penny Hardaway scored 17 points in Game 1 and helped ease the loss of Kidd. "Penny stepped up before Jason got hurt," Suns coach Scott Skiles said. "They were both starting to have big games on the same night and then Jason got hurt."
The Spurs had more to worry about than missing Duncan. They shot poorly and hit only 12 of 21 free throws. "Tim's not going to pull out Superman's cape," Avery Johnson said. "He's going to be out for a while and we have to find a way to get things done without him."
Kevin Johnson expects another battle in Game 2.
"I just think we caught them flat," Kevin Johnson said. "It's not like we beat them with a buzzer shot. The whole game was pretty even."