Respect for the Phoenix Suns
Coming into the series, I told Michael Schwartz (proprietor of the Phoenix Suns blog Valley of the Suns) that San Antonio Spurs fans treat the Suns’ status as a true rival as a controverted issue. Our Jesse Blanchard, for example, took the position that the Suns could not be considered a rival until they actually beat the Spurs. This is how I framed the issue:
[San Antonio fans tend to see]the Suns as a speed bump on the Spursâ€™ trek through the playoffs. The Suns have never beat the Spurs in a meaningful series, and, in the eyes of some Spurs fans, this renders â€œrivalryâ€ into something of an overblown description. And, of course, depending on how quickly the Spurs dismiss the Suns, the â€œrivalryâ€ may be less of a speed bump and more of a passing lane.
After last night’s 110-96 dismantling of the Spurs, the Suns couldn’t make me look more foolish. They’re neither speed bump nor passing lane. The Suns are a bunch of psychotic motorists sharing the wheel of a high speed killing machine, and, at least for this series, the Spurs are a cat on the highway.
And then the SunsÂ hit their brakes and put the car in reverse.
Thump. Splat. Thump.
These aren’t Mike D’Antoni’s Suns.
If the Suns are able to close-out this series–who among us seriously doubts that they will–I’m cheering for them for the rest of the postseason. They’ve earned it. But let me explain.
Steve Nash is 36. Grant Hill is 37.Â You know how the song goes: there is a place in the sun for anyone who has the will to chase one. The Suns have been on the chase for a long time, and their opportunities are dwindling. The old guys are on the clock.
And Alvin Gentry and Steve Kerr have transformed the Suns into something more than a pretty face. Steve Kerr took an odd approach to re-building, but his risk-taking approach has found its much-deserved reward. It’s nice to see yet another Spurs alumnus find his way. And Gentry? He’s an old Larry Brown protege–Pop and Gentry used to take turns fetching Brown’s clipboard–who has been able to infuse just a hint of Brown’s we-must-get-stops mentality into the Suns’ high octane system. Score one for distant relatives.
But if the conquered cheering for the conqueror seems perverse to you, let’s at least concede that it’s smart.
Prior to this series, Wayne Winston picked the Spurs in six, but with a noteworthy caveat.Â From the outset he maintained that the story of the series would be the Spurs’ effective containment of the Suns’ bench, especially Jared Dudley and Channing Frye. And while Goran Dragic wasn’t mentioned by name, Winston was insistent on this point. In private correspondence he told me, “This series has nothing to do with how the starting lineups match-up. It will be won or lost based on how the Spurs respond to the Suns’ bench.”
Oh, and that bench. Wow.
Alvin Gentry likes to go to his subs for the first 6 minutes of the 4th quarter, and it’s not some sort of confidence building stunt. Not anymore. It’s a grand departure from Mike D’Antonio’s insanely short rotations.
The Suns have evolved before our eyes, and by the time last night’s game ended, they were this postseason’s lead car. According to Winston’s numbers, the Suns have been the best team in the playoffs.
The. Best. Team. The Suns. Seriously.
Don’t get me wrong, my perversity knows its limits: I’ll never cheer for the Lakers. And my grotesque inclinations run hither and yon. Nothing would give me more pleasure than watching the Suns crumble, losing 4 straight to the Spurs.Â But if that doesn’t happen, I’ll take pleasure in watching them beat everyone else.