The San Antonio Spurs are shedding the perception that they are a soft team with no point guard and weak defense.

After leading the NBA in field-goal percentage allowed and fewest points allowed during the regular season, the Spurs held the Phoenix Suns to just 43 percent shooting in a 3-1, first-round playoff victory.Defense has become a signature of the Spurs under coach Gregg Popovich, who preached all season that winning in the playoffs is predicated on stopping other teams.

A lack of attention to defense was a big reason Popovich fired coach Bob Hill, the winningest coach in Spurs history, and put himself in as coach two years ago.

"I wouldn't have remained the coach if the players hadn't bought into it," Popovich said. "They agreed totally."

It helps that the starting lineup frequently includes three 7-footers - David Robinson, NBA Rookie of the Year Tim Duncan and Will Perdue.

Robinson and Duncan each had more than three blocks per game in the series with the Suns, and Duncan had six in a 99-80 victory in Game 4 on Wednesday night.

Robinson had 21 rebounds in Game 4, 16 on the defensive side.

The Spurs have also been bolstered by the play of point guard Avery Johnson, who has doubled his scoring average in the playoffs (20.5 points).

The Spurs will play in the second round against either Utah or Houston. The Rockets lead the series 2-1 heading into tonight's Game 4.

If the Rockets win the series tonight, the Spurs would host Game 1 of the second round on Sunday.