A Fine Line Between Success and Failure in the Playoffs

Raja Bell and Amare Stoudemire enjoy a moment during the Suns’ victory on Sunday.
(NBAE Photos)

After being counted out of the series by most, the Suns kept their season alive with a superb game four performance! What happened?! They looked like the Suns Team we have all come to love. The Suns had two players step-up, big time! Raja Bell had his best game of the season, scoring the first seven points of the game and tying his season high with 27 points. The Suns haven’t lost this season when he scores 20 plus points, going 12-0. Boris Diaw proved again he is a much better player as a starter. Coach Mike inserted him into the starting five for the 20th time and he just missed his sixth triple-double of his career. Boris has said it doesn’t matter to him if he starts, but I beg to differ.

It still comes down to making shots. Tony Parker – as hot as he was in Game 3 – cooled off, Manu Ginobili likewise looked human and Tim Duncan was not his usual dominating self. In the previous game, the Big 3 scored a combined 84 points, on Sunday they were held to 42. The trio had 90 points in the first game of the series.

All in all, the Defending World Champions looked vulnerable. Yet, remember they had a cushion to work with, needing only one win in the next four games. Now, they must capture one more victory in the next 3 outings. The Spurs are a team that thrives on pressure. That’s when the mental toughness kicks in. They have seen everything during their run to four titles in nine years and they have a ton of pride. They are a team that knows how to play and how to win. However, if the Suns get this series to a game 6 – look out!! The Suns could make history with a back door sweep!

Hey, let’s make some history!!

Suns Still Standing Despite Spurs' Heavyweight Punches

“That’s one of the best games I’ve ever seen in all my years in the NBA” Those were the words of ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy during the telecast Sunday in LA between the Lakers and Nuggets. He of course was referring to the double over-time thriller in game one between the Suns and Spurs.

Steve Nash has willed his team to victories in the past and will do it again in this series.
(NBAE Photos)

It was a bitter, painful loss for the Suns, but I look at it as an encouraging game for Phoenix. It was a heavyweight fight, with the Spurs throwing all their punches, but the opponent, the Suns, are still standing and are ready for round two.

I don’t think the Spurs can play any better, but the Suns can, and Ithink they will! How many times will Duncan hit such a big three point shot, or will the Suns get in as much foul trouble early? I question if the Spurs have enough fire-power, if they can score enough points to win the series.

The series features two of the best big men to ever play the game in Duncan and Shaq. They are bigger that life. Each man wants a coveted 5th ring. Duncan may be the best power-forward to ever play the game,but how many 40 point games does he have in him? Shaq, one of the mostdominating big men of all-time, doesn’t need to have such an outrageous game, as he has a better supporting cast. The Spurs have no answer for Amar’e. He can dominate. He is the best player on the floor. As VanGundy put it, “He just has to think he is the best.” Steve Nash has willed his team to victories in the past and I believe it’s going to happen again! He is too good to be denied a first round series win. Grant Hill will continue to get healthier, Diaw and Barbosa will bring crucial bench points and Raja will get under Ginobili’s skin.

It’s just the Suns time. It’s their time because this series is deeply personal. It’s about settling a score! Bring on round-two!

Thoughts on the Shaq Trade

When the trade first went down, an ESPN Poll indicated that 71% of the country thought it was a bad trade for Phoenix. At first blush, I must admit I did as well. After watching Shaq during his time in the Valley of the Sun, I have started to change my thinking.

I am convinced that Steve Kerr had to “go for it”. The move gives the Suns a chance to win the title and offsets what the Lakers were able to pull off getting Pau Gasol from Memphis. Having said all that, I can’t quite get my arms around what it is going to look like with the “Diesel” in a Suns Uniform. Shaq brings a magnetic personality, a bigger than life presence to the Suns. Does he have anything left in the tank? The Suns Medical Staff was pleasantly suprised how good his hip looked and feel they can get him rolling.

I’m like the guy who just bought a brand new sports car and can’t wait to drive it. I can’t wait for Shaq to make his debut!!! If you think its surreal now, wait until that night he comes onto the floor with his new teammates. I get chills just thinking about it!

Gut-Check Time For Suns

Nash and the Suns will try to right the ship when they play the Lakers in L.A. on Thursday night.
(NBAE Photos)

The Suns aren’t in trouble or destined for failure this season, but it is a “gut-check” time for them. The loss to the Clippers Tuesday night gives the Suns the dubious distinction of losing to three teams in last place in their respective divisions….Miami, Minnesota and the Clips. The good new is…Dallas and San Antonio are going through their own travails.

So what’s going on with the Suns? I once was told by a very respected coach that players don’t deal with reality. Quite frankly they don’t always look at the “big picture”. They don’t suffer the short term consequences like coaches do. Players assume that the window of opportunity always remains open, when in fact a team may never find themselves positioned as well as the previous season to make a run for the title.

This is still, at times, the most exciting team in the NBA, and there is enough talent to win it all. But…the players need to know you can’t just throw on a switch in April and expect to go to a different level. The switch the Suns need to throw right now is the one marked intensity or energy.

How important is the regular season? Most players will tell that how they play in April, counts. But. it looks like the Suns could in effect lose a seeding spot or home court advantage the way they’re going now!

Some questions:

    • How long will it take Grant Hill to recover from surgery?
    • Why can’t Boris Diaw play like he did last week against Milwaukee?
    • Why does Shawn Marion disappear at times?
    • Can Raja Bell ever get healthy?
    • Will Amare Stoudemire stop worrying about his playing out of position at center?
    • Can Steve Nash continue at his remarkable pace?

Selfishly, we as broadcasters want the Suns to play well, because we “sound better” when they do! A struggling team brings criticism to all associated with it, including Tom, Eddie, Dan and yours truly. We are all spoiled, as the Suns Success these many seasons has been remarkable. Sometimes, we the media, are criticized for creating a crisis, a story for all to react.

This blog isn’t suggesting a crisis is at hand, but just a concern about where the Suns are as we approach the halfway-point of the season.

Suns Still in Search of First NBA Title

As you look back on the Suns season, you sense the Suns just needed a break! They certainly didn’t get any breaks in Round 2 with the Spurs.

A dejected Steve Nash walks off the AT&T Center in San Antonio after the Suns were eliminated by the Spurs on Friday night.
(NBAE Photos)

Between Steve Nash’s bloody nose and the suspensions of Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw, the team’s “Eyes on the Prize”, came to grinding halt. It will be a series that will always be tainted!

The question now being raised is… will the window of opportunity to win a title remain open? So often teams assume they will get in position to win it all, several times or at least the next season.

NFL coach Dick Vermeil, who won one Super Bowl and lost another, once told me, “You better win it now, because you may never get back here again.” Certainly, the Suns let a golden opportunity get away.

Dallas had been eliminated, the Suns had home court advantage the rest of the way and the team for the first time in two seasons was healthy. The quick exit makes a third straight Pacific Division title, a franchise record 17-game winning streak and a 61-win season be almost forgotten. The Suns admit that their entire success would be determined only by what they accomplished in the post-season.

Many experts would like to tell you that the Sun’s high-octane, up tempo-style of play, just doesn’t hold-up in the playoffs. I disagree!!

The style can work, especially now that the defense has tightened up. The Suns showed some new found toughness that bodes well for the future.

Will the Suns stand pat, or make wholesale changes?? Steve Nash has urged patience, to take time to let the season to sink in.

The Suns face a luxury -tax hit, estimated at $ 12 million dollars if they return to core of players and sign 3 first round draft picks.

They can expect continuing growth from Amaré, Leandro and Boris, and Nash shows no signs of slowing down. It seems everyone is quick to trade Shawn Marion, but I remind those who do, that his style of play is perfect for the Suns System.

I would like to see Mike D’Antoni be able to expand the bench, get more players into the rotation. This season’s additions, Banks, Rose, Piatkowski and Jones never made an impact. Mike has been criticized for being stubborn and not playing them more, but I honestly believe he didn’t feel they were good enough to invest minutes. Mike since the end of the season has admitted the Suns need depth and that he’s “on it.”

Finally, it was a remarkable run. I wish the regular season had ended in January, after the team went 15-1 and were the talk of the basketball world. At that time the Suns looked invincible!!

But, still there is no NBA Title.

It leaves the Suns as the best franchise to have never won a championship.

It hurts to know this season was probably the best shot the Suns have ever had at winning the coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy.

A Classic in the Making

Many times we in the media can get carried away in our preview of a game or series that’s to be played. But, this year’s series between the Suns and Spurs warrants all the attention we can give it. The second round meeting between these two teams will be a war!!

The Suns and Spurs tip off the Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday afternoon at US Airways Center (12:30 p.m., ABC).�� (NBAE Photos)

Bill Walton said this week that the winner of this series will win it all! With the number one seed, Dallas eliminated, it does appear that could be the case. However, nobody wants to play the Warriors right now!! The Suns have to overcome a lot of history to get by the Spurs.

Since Mike D’Antoni took over, the Suns have won only 4 of 18 meetings. We all know how good the “Big Fundamental” Tim Duncan is, (he averaged 20.2 pts and 10.6 rebounds vs.. Denver) carving up the Nuggets with his passing out of the double teams.

Gregg Popovich called him a wonderful quarterback as Denver went after him physically. We realize the speed at which Tony Parker plays, second only to Leandro Barbosa, and are braced for the fanatic play of Manu Ginobili.

The Spurs have their version of Shawn Marion defensively in Bruce Bowen, but what has really thrown this series into such a potential epic is the play of two veterans. Through the years 36 year old Robert Horry has been a post-season phenomenon. He leads all active players with six NBA titles. He has appeared in the playoffs all 14 NBA seasons, making big shot after big shot. He buried the Nuggets with a 3-pointer in game #4 with 30 seconds left.

“Big Shot Rob”, rests up for the post-season and be assured he will find a way to impact this series. The other veteran, who created havoc in the first round, was Michael Finley. The two-time all-star was on fire! In the deciding game five against Denver, the former Sun hit 8 shots behind the line. He registered 19 three point hits the 3rd most ever in a five game series.

Having said all that, Amaré Stoudemire should offset all that. Two seasons ago STAT scored a playoff career-high 42 points in game five of the Western Conference Finals vs. the Spurs. Even Tim Duncan was impressed.

Amaré makes the Suns such an elite team, and if he can avoid early foul trouble, look out! Nash will be Nash, Bell will be Bell and Barbosa will be Superman. Without beating a dead horse, I wonder how the series will be officiated?

The Spurs are the biggest complainers in the league, and now that Joey Crawford has been banished, who can hold Duncan accountable??

As Suns vice president of basketball operations, David Griffin, put it, “We’re going to find out if we’ve really taken a step forward” Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich has said the Suns have never beaten them when it matters. Well it matters, and the Suns plan to overcome some history in what will be a classic!

The Brazillian Superman

Before Game 1 of the playoffs, the Suns’ Amare Stoudemire stated, “the regular season consists of great professionals, but the playoffs are where stars are born.” Well… after Game 1, the Suns have a newborn star in Leandro Barbosa.

 

Leandro Barbosa led the Suns to a 95-87 win in Game 1 of the playoffs on Sunday.
(Barry Gossage/NBAE Photos)
 

He “toasted” the Lakers tying his career playoff-high with 26 points.�L.A. had no answer for LB, who is unguardable with his warp speed. Coach Mike D’Antoini in the press conference following the victory said, “to play at that speed must be fun.”

Barbosa,�like the rest of the team, appeared “tight” early in the game, but then exploded for 15 points in the 3rd quarter, including a huge three-point shot to energize the Suns heading into the 4th.

After the game I asked Suns Chairman Jerry Colangelo who Barbosa reminded him of; who could he recall in his almost 40 years with the Suns played at his blurring speed? He couldn’t come up with anybody. That’s what is exciting and so promising about the Brazilian Blur. He’s so unique, he’s an original. He should soon be named the Sixth Man of the Year, and I believe he will end up being named an All-Star in the near future.

LB’s metamorphosis started on January 2nd in Chicago, when he hit a�three-pointer to beat the Bulls. Since that time his confidence has grown. As D’Antoni put it, “he thinks he’s Superman.”

Coach may just be on to something. After all, Superman is faster than a speeding bullet and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. The Suns’ Superman does that at times, plus a few�things the other Superman never thought possible.