Although tempting to list the causes of death as poisonous home cooking, a Haq’d Shaq, and injuries sustained by being repeatedly flopped upon, the official culprits are gaping, bleeding wounds in the defensive middle, severe inflammation of the fumble fingers, and a serious case of psych-out Spurs-itis.

After falling gravely ill late last week, Beechen’s beard made a brief recovery over the weekend but, said one of the physicians treating the case, “it was too much of an uphill climb.”

The physician called himself “puzzled and heartbroken” by the case. “It’s especially frustrating because we’ve seen so many similar cases over the last few years in Phoenix. We know the cure for Spurs-itis exists outside the Phoenix area – we’ve seen it work in other cities – but for some reason, we can’t manage a cure here.” It was hoped that the February addition of a giant antibody to the system might strengthen the playoff beard prior to the postseason, but those hopes proved unfounded.

The beard was disposed of in a private ceremony over a sink in Los Angeles late Thursday night.

Adam Beechen requests, in lieu of flowers, that donations in the form of vehement rooting support be delivered to the New Orleans Hornets.

The Bitter End

Steve Nash gives interviews after the Suns’ Game 5 loss in San Antonio on Tuesday.

My exit from the AT&T Center in San Antonio was far easier said than done after Game 5, especially when facing locked doors, chained gates and (for some reason) angry security guards at every turn.

Between the outcome of the game and the dejection in the visitors’ locker room during the postgame media scrum, I couldn’t wait to get out of that building – and with good reason.

Another all-too-short postseason exit after another 50-plus win regular season – a regular season that also happened to feature a franchise-altering trade, another pair of All-Star appearances – all en route to a fourth straight playoff berth. Of course, that’s little solace for a team that struggled out of an early Opening Round 3-0 hole, before going out in Game 5.

Back to the postgame locker room scene, there was no hostility (well, none that I experienced firsthand), even with the onslaught of camera, microphones and voice recorders at a time when nobody really feels like talking. Still, the Suns were asked every question possible about the series and the whole season. It always struck me as odd to flip that switch in mindset, from “how will you handle the opposition tonight” to “what do you think will happen this summer with this team?” – all in the span of a few hours.

I’m sure the finality of it all hadn’t quite sunk in yet… myself included. To their credit, the Suns answered all comers before filing onto the team bus for their final flight back to Phoenix.

As for what the immediate future holds for the Suns, well, that’s anybody’s guess. One thing is certain. The Suns will eventually rise again – just not today.

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!!

Bell Brings It in Do-or-Die Game 4

There were 25 reporters crowded around Raja Bell’s locker after the game today. Yes, I counted. That’s 25 more than Game 3, as he ducked out the backdoor before the media was let in after Friday’s ugly loss.

Bell wasn’t going down without a fight.
(NBAE Photos)

“Man, I haven’t seen this much action since I clotheslined Kobe,” Bell joked as he attempted to dress in his claustrophobic fish bowl.

Truth be told, the Suns’ guard probably hasn’t had a game like today’s since that 2006 playoffs when he wrestled with Bryant in the opening round and drilled the clutch three-pointer vs. the Clippers to force OT in Game 5 of the Semifinals.

It was good to see Bell being aggressive today, driving inside, fighting for loose balls and banging the three-balls. Coach D’Antoni has often called him the heart of the team in recent years, and that heart was beating fast in this one.

On the afternoon, “Raj” finished with 27 points on 5-of-7 shooting from behind the arc, plus six boards and five assists for good measure.

“You know, I was embarrassed. I was really, really embarrassed by my play and our team’s play in the last game, so it was hard to sleep,”
he admitted. “If you come out and give 110 percent and you feel like you’ve done everything, you can sleep at night. But I was restless with that and couldn’t put it to bed. I wasn’t frustrated so much, but just really embarrassed, so I wanted to come out tonight and just fight.”

Bell wasn’t the only one fighting, of course. The Suns looked like a completely different team today than the one wearing purple and orange on Friday. Now the question is, which team will show up Tuesday in San Antonio? One local TV reporter asked Raja if he had a prediction for Game 5.

“I don’t make predictions, but I know the series isn’t over. I know until they win four games, we have a chance. That’s what I know.

“We’re still in a deep hole. We understand that. But we still have life… No one’s folding up the tent and making summer plans yet. We’re too proud for that.”

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs – Game 4

Sunday, April 27, 2008
4:00 pm
Dan Hilton

The game has ended, the fans are gone and the interviews with the players are done. It was a good game. A good win. It feels good to have at least one win under our belts. The team travels to San Antonio on Monday for Tuesday’s game. Whatever they did today, they need to do the same thing on Tuesday – only with more intensity. The Spurs are going to be upset, the San Antonio fans are going to be loud and the Suns have always had a hard time winning at the AT&T Center. But the Suns have won twice there in the regular season. But as so many fans have pointed out in the comments over the past four games, the regular season is NOT the playoffs. But the Suns showed that they can not only get a lead on the Suns but they can also keep the lead and win the game.

Game 5, here we come! [Read more...]

Suns' Loss Causes Groans Around Planet Orange

The Suns tired out quickly in Game 3 and never recovered.
(NBAE Photos)

I never saw this one coming. Oh, even through my rose colored glasses I could see the Spurs quite possibly winning. But I never thought I’d see them run the Suns right out of their own building in such embarrassing fashion.

How embarrassing was it? Well, given the circumstances, I am hard pressed to recall a more embarrassing performance EVER by a Phoenix team in the postseason. The Suns were outplayed, out-coached, out-hustled, out-maneuvered, and out-poised. And even hard boos weren’t enough to ease the pain for the stunned citizens of Planet Orange.

The Suns eventually did manage to shift their offense into high, or at least second gear, but they never got their defense out of neutral.

Mind you, I don’t want to take anything away from the Spurs. They were simply superb in every phase of the game. And if you were a basketball purist who didn’t care who won you had to love watching them exploit every Phoenix weakness with almost surgical precision.

Tony Parker was especially magnificent, and not just because of his playoff career-high 41 points and 12 assists. An even bigger problem than those numbers for the Suns was their complete inability to stop him from going anywhere he wanted to with the ball at any time.

Even notoriously hard to please San Antonio coach Greg Popovich said his team couldn’t play any better (and Coach Mike PMtered a fervent, “I certainly hope not.”) And truth to tell, the Spurs never looked this good on their way to the title last year.

The series isn’t officially over yet, of course, but the cold hard truth is that the Suns have been reduced to playing for pride in Game Four here on Sunday. If they can string together a series of miracles, so be it, but just proving Game Three was more of an aberration than a reflection of who they really are is the only realistic goal for the nonce.

This game raised some serious questions about the team’s future. And, sadly, one of those questions has to be just how much gas Steve Nash has left in the tank. Had he not built such a large reservoir of good will for his superb play over the last few years he would probably be catching some serious heat.

The most comforting answer is, hey, it’s only one game for gosh sakes, and Nash and the Suns WILL bounce back, if not necessarily in this series then most definitely next year. But I’m not sure I buy all of that.

Oh, I don’t think Steve is washed up by any means. But there is a platoon of young point guards posed to take their teams to the Promised Land in the next few years, which makes it hard to shake the thought the window of opportunity you heard closing last night may have been nailed shut for the foreseeable future.

The bottom line: Same as the top one: AAAAaaaagh!!!!

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs – Game 3


Friday, April 25, 2008
9:58 pm
Stefan Swiat

If the Suns are going to make a comeback, they are going to have to do so with contributions from their main three role players: Barbosa, Bell and Diaw.

When two out of the three of those guys score 15 points or more, the Suns are 17-2. LB has hit for 20 points already, whereas Diaw only has six and Bell has two. One of those guys are going to have to get hot and make the defense pay for when they collapse on STAT, Shaq and Nash.

Nash, who was quiet the first half, became more aggressive in the third before going out of the game for his usual fourth-quarter rest. Look for him to attack voraciously when he re-enters the contest.

It’s do or die time Suns fans… [Read more...]

Two Down

After the first two games of the Suns/Spurs series, this playoff beard needs to be a rally beard.

Here’s how I have spent my playoffs thus far: For Saturday’s Game 1, I was in an Urgent Care facility in central Phoenix, having arrived in town Thursday with a 102-degree fever and severe chills. It was right around the time the physician’s assistant diagnosed me with acute bronchitis that I checked my Blackberry and saw the final score of the game (Inexplicably, the television in the lobby was tuned to the Disney Channel).

For Game 2, I was again home in Los Angeles, stretched out on my couch, having consumed a giant bowl of matzoball soup for lunch, feeling a smidge better, certain that a Suns victory in Game 2 would push me ‘round the corner toward full recovery. Two and a half hours later, the Suns were in an 0-2 hole, and I was doubting the curative powers of “Jewish penicillin.”

Now, the situation – neither the Suns nor my own – isn’t fatal. Teams are supposed to win at home, and that’s all the Spurs have done. They’ve taken care of business on their own floor, and now the Suns are on their way back to the Valley to see if they can’t do the same. The Spurs deserve a good deal of credit – the Suns had them in deep holes in both games, and the defending champs showed the grit and resolve that’s won them so many trophies over the years. In short, they played like champions when they most needed to.

But oh, the chances the Suns squandered! The leads that got away…The easy baskets given up in the paint…The uncharacteristic mental lapses…The turnovers at the most inopportune times…The missed free throws down the stretch…It’s enough to make you want to throw a matzoball through your flat screen.

The Suns had all of their big men in foul trouble in Game 1, and still they were right there. Tim Duncan riddled them for forty points and fifteen rebounds, and still, the Suns were right there. In front of a hostile crowd and facing years of playoff heartbreak, the Suns were right there. And they couldn’t close the deal.

In Game 2, the Suns had the specter of Game 1 looming over their shoulder, and they came out roaring. They played the first half with heart, focus and intensity. They commanded the tempo, the big men played aggressively, cautiously, but above all, effectively. Once again, the Suns were right there. And again, they couldn’t close the deal.

If only NBA games had no halftime. The Spurs stormed back in the third quarter. The Suns couldn’t see, let alone find, the bottom of the net. The lead dwindled, then vanished. Suns fans around the world watched in agony as San Antonio sprinted out to the front. Suns fans around the world tore their hair out when the Spurs went to the Haq-a-Shaq in an effort to extend their lead – a perfectly legal strategy that Shaq defused by calmly hitting his charity shots under extreme duress (and may I say here that Shaq has been everything a Suns fan could have ever hoped). Suns fans moved to the edges of their seats when the Suns made a final run. They were right there.

And once again, the game slipped away.

What’s a poor, ailing, beard-growing Suns fan to do in the face of such repeated frustration?

There’s only one answer, the same answer Suns fans have told themselves since this franchise began forty years ago: Back the team even harder. Back them as they tug on the knee pads and go play Games 3 and 4. Take care of the home court. Send this back to San Antonio with the series reduced to a best-of-three, with two of those games in Texas. Where the Suns have been before. Where they know they can win.

The fat lady has not sung yet. But the Suns have to stop trying to hand her the microphone.

Going Home

I’ve got a mound of work waiting for me when I reconnect to the Internet on the ground, but for the moment I’m looking out the window wrestling with a strange feeling.

For the first time in my life, I’m glad to be leaving Texas.

My conversion to a Phoenix Suns fan is nearly complete. I know ahead of us is a long day of listening to people worry about the Suns’ chances but looking around this cabin, I find comfort in the team I’ve followed all season.

There are no hanging heads or pointing fingers. The same group that was playing cards on the way to San Antonio is enjoyng the same game on the red eye back home. DVD players are still lit up with the latest movie releases and every few minutes a laugh will cut through the flight noise. Panic? No thanks.

The Spurs did what the Spurs have done for years – find a way to win. In Game 1 they used a comeback fueled by big shots. In Game 2, it was hack-a-Shaq and oppessive defense. It’s nothing new.

But now we’re headed to the place where the Suns have their own bag of tricks. It’s time for the Suns to do what they did __ in the regular season. Defend their home.

I can already hear some of you saying, “But the Spurs are too hard to beat.”

Tell that to the 2004 Los Angeles Lakers. The group of veteren stars (sound familiar?) fell down 0-2 to the defending NBA champion Spurs (sound very familiar?) and headed back to the Staples center where they decided the Spurs would get no closer to the trophy.

Tell that to the 2005 Detroit Pistons. They also stumbled out of the gate in San Antonio and flew to Detroit with their backs against an 0-2 wall. They answered the challenge and evened things up with two convincing wins.

Oh yeah, and tell that to the 2008 Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix Suns vs San Antonio Spurs – Game 2


Saturday, April 22, 2008
10:52 pm
Jeramie McPeek

The locker room is never a fun place to be after demoralizing losses like tonight’s. The last thing the players feel like doing after getting soundly beaten is answer questions asking why?

Why did you collapse in the third quarter after such a strong first half?

Why did Parker and Ginobili go off?

Why were you struggling with your shot, Leandro?

Why did you not play down the stretch, Grant? [Read more...]