It's Just a Building…Right?

The AT&T Center has caused a lot of pain for the visiting teams.

I’ve explored every level and I assure you that there is no death star being constructed in a secret room. It’s just a building… or is it?

The Suns’ playoff opener goes down as one of the most thrilling games in recent memory, but it was just par for the course for an arena that has haunted opponents since 2003. Shaquille O’Neal has been around long enough to know the history. When asked about his foul trouble in Game 1 Shaq said, “I’m used to things like that happening in this building. We’ve just got to find a way to continue playing.”

Other Suns remember all too well “The Incident” in Game 4 last year when a fourth-quarter flagrant foul sent Steve Nash to the floor and the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals. The Nuggets also know what it’s like to draw the wrath of the the building. Twice they opened the playoffs with a win on the Spurs’ home court and both times that was their only win of the playoffs.

The AT&T Center has seen the Spurs crowned champions twice (’03 and ’05) and it will pull out every trick in the book to see it again. Tim Duncan hits a clutch three-pointer in the closing seconds? Only in that arena.

But not so fast. Before we run and hide from the mysterious power of that building, let’s remember that it has turned on the Spurs in the past. In the 2004 playoffs, the Spurs hosted Game 5 in their semi-final series against the Lakers. With the series tied 2-2, the pivotal game went down to the wire and the Spurs, thanks to an incredible shot by Tim Duncan, had the lead with 0 seconds remaining. Actually, there was 0.4 seconds remaining. I was in the building for Derek Fisher’s miraculous shot that crushed the Spurs spirit and for the first time I tasted the bitterness that building has fed to so many opponents over the years.

The Suns have a chance to harness the power of the AT&T Center and give the Spurs a taste of their own medicine once again. They were a Tim Duncan three-pointer away from winning Game 1 and as Shaq famously remarked back in 2004, “One lucky shot deserves another.”

If that’s true, we’re due.

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!

Home Again

The Suns flew over enemy territory as they landed in San Antonio on Friday.
(Daniel Banks)

In my introductory blog for Suns.com, I explained that I spent the past four seasons working for the San Antonio Spurs before making the switch last summer. I admit it wasn’t an easy thing watching the Suns and Spurs play each other during the regular season. I was like a mother watching her two kids wrestle in the back yard: “It’s okay as long as no one gets hurt!”

But as my first season with the Phoenix Suns turns into my first postseason with the Suns, we run smack-dab into the Spurs. Now instead of kids wrestling, they’re sword fighting. Someone is most definitely getting sent home after this series. It’s time to choose a side.

Suns in six.

Why will the Suns win? Because they say so. This group of guys isn’t fearful or even (ahem) sternly focused… they’re downright enthusiastic. Steve Nash, Amaré Stoudemire, Shaq, and company are eager to shed the ghosts of last year and put on a performance that will haunt the Spurs for a change.

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to tag along with the team on their trip to Texas. For me, it was a return home, but for the Suns, it was a trip into enemy territory. We flew over the AT&T Center, saw Spurs billboards on the freeway, and I even ran into the Spurs Coyote (more on that in a second). Despite this town’s love for their team, there is a nervousness in San Antonio. The Spurs know they can be beaten and they are questioning if they have what it takes to stop Shaq from demanding that they start their summer early.

Finally, allow me a quick personal note about the trip. The travel day is a blur of buses, airports and new experiences. One minute I’m getting screened by airport security out on the tarmac and the next I’m enjoying a delicous lunch (orange chicken from Pei Wei!) on the charter flight while watching Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Brian Skinner try to take all of Tim Kempton’s chips in a game of poker. Then we land and find our way to the hotel, where I get to work (check out the photos from travel day). But there was one more thing that had to be done though. Fiesta.

Fiesta San Antonio is actually several large festivals around town all tied together with the same theme: Eat a lot. I can get behind a mission statement like that. Anyway, after my work I cabbed it to one of the festivals still in my Suns gear from the flight. As I approach the entrance I ran into none other than the Spurs Coyote. He did his best to deny me entry, but ladies and gentlemen, I would not be stopped. Did I get some comments? Sure, there were more than a few people who pointed at my shirt and yelled, “WHAT IS THAT??” I politely informed them, “It’s a 2008 Suns Championship shirt… I just bought it early.”

Phoenix Suns vs. San Antonio Spurs – Game 1

Saturday, April 19, 2008
5:30 pm
Jeramie McPeek

I always wondered what that would be like.

You may have caught a quick glimpse of me late in regulation. At least I think it was regulation. It’s all a bit of a blur at the moment.

At some point late in the game, I was sitting in my corner, filming the Suns reserves standing and screaming in front of the bench to my right, when suddenly i heard footsteps. Loud footsteps. [Read more...]

Suns-Spurs Rivalry is a Long-Standing Tradition


 

Brad wears a Michael Finley jersey in better times – when Finley didn’t play for the Evil Empire.

There I am, maybe 15 years of age hanging out in Sun City in a Michael Finley Suns jersey. Surprisingly, the key statement there isn’t the fact I was in Sun City (boy, those were some crazy times), but rather the now-throwback jersey I was wearing of a guy who currently calls himself a Spur. It got me thinking about just how deep the roots to the Suns-Spurs Western Conference are and just how long I have loathed the NBA’s Evil Empire.

The first time these two ballclubs ever squared off in the postseason was back in the 1991-92 season – a time when grunge dominated the music industry, Terminator 2 dominated the box office and a certain forward by the name of Grant Hill was helping his Duke Blue Devils to two straight NCAA Championships. Phoenix swept San Antonio in three games, led by young up-and-coming superstars Cedric Ceballos, Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle.

The following year the two teams met again, with the workload being carried this time by new Sun Charles Barkley. In the series clinching victory, the Round Mound of Rebound and 1993 MVP would contribute 28 points and 21 rebounds. The Spurs, meanwhile, were led by their future MVP David Robinson, who in 1996 would have his revenge, dispatching the Suns in four quick opening round games.

Finley was a rookie with the Suns that season, while I was in the early stages of being an NBA fan. The Suns were the most entertaining team in the league that 1995-96 season, boasting a great combination of veterans (Barkley, Johnson) and rising, young stars (Finley, Wesley Person).

The Spurs also had a Person on their squad at that time, a sharpshooter by the name of Chuck, who wasn’t the only crafty veteran on the team’s roster. The Spurs that season were led by Robinson but had a plethora of talent surrounding him like Sean Elliot, Avery Johnson, Vinny Del Negro and Doc Rivers. [Read more...]

Suns Find Their First Round Opponent in the Playoffs

Oh, they could have hoped a combination of circumstances would give them the home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, but that was the longest of long shots anyway.

Gordan Giricek lead the Suns bench to a win over the Blazers on Wednesday.

And everything else fell nicely into place. They got to rest their starters the last three quarters and still beat Portland, and as for the playoff bracket, it couldn’t have turned out much better for the Suns if they had been allowed to draw it up themselves.

They get San Antonio and a chance to exorcise the post-season demons that have tormented them the last few seasons in the first round, and they don’t have to deal with the Lakers until the third round.

This hardly means the Suns have been given a free pass into the NBA Finals, of course. But given how top heavy the West is this year it’s really the least worst of the possible title paths they could have had to take.

The San Antonio-Phoenix series, which opens Saturday in Texas, offers the most compelling first-round story line in either Conference, what with the Spurs seeking their fourth title in the last eight years and the Suns and their aggrieved fans thirsting for the kind of truth and justice that can only come by beating the Spurs.

This is the kind of high drama you seldom get in a first round, especially in a 3-6 matchup.

The Spurs are looking old and vulnerable, but then they always seem look old and vulnerable going INTO the playoffs, and more often than not like champions coming OUT. So the Suns certainly are not about to fall for that Coach Pop’s con, even if it finally turns out to be true. He’s just cried wolf too many times.

But either way the Suns are more ready for him than they’ve ever been. TV analyst Mark Jackson put their case best when he said, “With the trade for Shaq the Suns have gone from having a shooter’s shot at the title to a legitimate shot.”

Amen! And furthermore, the Suns would be the team in the West I would least like to face. And that includes the Lakers!

The Suns can play big, they can play small, they can play fast, and they can play slow. And unlike in the past, they CAN”T be easily bullied. Think about it. For the first time in their history they are entering the post season with a monster in the middle. In fact, THE monster, albeit a somewhat long in the tooth one.

Further, with all due respect to great youngsters like Chris Paul and Deron Williams, in Steve Nash the Suns still have the point guard I’d most want to have the ball for me in the last two minutes of a game where the winner gets a million dollars and the loser gets electrocuted. And in Amare they have an unstoppable power forward.

The bottom line: It says here that is a franchise whose time has come!

Getting Ready for the Playoffs

 

Alando Tucker played 25 minutes and scored 10 points in the Suns win over the Blazers on Wednesday.
(NBAE Photos)

To be honest, I was getting a little winded towards the end after playing the whole second half, but it just felt so good to be out there, I didn’t even think about taking a breather. That’s what you work all season for, opportunities like that. All in all, I felt like I could’ve played a lot better, but I know I played hard and I know there are some adjustments I’ll be looking to make. It was also nice getting the chance to show some of the adjustments I have made throughout the course of this rookie season. I played some good perimeter defense against both their point guards and power forwards and was glad I got to show some versatility on that end of the floor. Offensively, I think I did exactly what the coaches are looking for, using a couple of dribbles to get into the lane and if need be, kick it out to a teammate for an open shot.

We’ve had some fun today ribbing Brian Skinner about his ejection. He’s been told if he gets kicked out of another game, he’ll have to shave the beard to shed his image. Some of the guys even offered to sign him up for anger management classes. All kidding aside, it was unfortunate seeing Brian ejected last night, but he’s having fun with it.

Although we were minus Brian, it was great being out there with DJ Strawberry, Sean Marks and all the guys I’ve been practicing with this season. Still, you’re definitely not going to hear me complaining if I’m on the court with anyone on this team. The key is to just be out there playing hard, and I love any opportunity I receive.
[Read more...]

With Two Games Left, Playoff Opponent Still Unknown

The current standings show the Suns with the 6th seed where they are slated to play the San Antonio Spurs. But there are still several games left and the Lakers, Hornets and Spurs are all within 1.5 games of each other. Any one of them could move to the 3rd seed before the season is over.

On the other hand, the Suns are a game behind the Houston Rockets. The Rockets have two games left against the Jazz and the Clippers. Phoenix plays Monday against Golden State and Wednesday against Portland. In order to take over the 5th seed, the Suns will need to win both of their games and wait for Houston to lose both of theirs. Because the Rockets have a better conference record than the Suns, they will take the tie breaker if the teams have the same record (they played to a 2-2 tie in their four games this season).

We’ve already discussed who we think the Suns would match up with the best so I don’t think that would be a good discussion again. We’ve also already talked about whether you think the Suns starters should rest or keep playing these last couple of games. And until we know who our opponent is going to be, it doesn’t do any good to talk potential matchups.

So I thought I would change it up a bit and maybe get some Suns-watching plans started. What do you guys do during playoff games? Do you like to get a huge group together at someone’s house, go all-out with the food and watch the games? Or do you watch the game by yourself so no one sees you cry if the Suns happen to lose?

The past several years I would be traveling during the playoffs so I ended up watching the games in a hotel room with a room service meal scattered in front of me. I would order a few extra rolls so I would have something to throw at the wall when I disagreed with a call. Last year, during the game 5 loss I started banging the back of my head against the wall as the Suns’ lead slowly slipped away in the last few minutes. I tried not to yell too loudly when watching games at the hotel but I’m sure the people in the rooms next to me thought I was a little nuts.

Let me know what you guys do during the playoffs and maybe it will give some of the other readers good ideas for what they can do as well.

Playoffs 2008: Let the Beard Begin!

Go, Suns, go! Grow, beard, grow!

It’s a superstition and a sign of focus: Nothing other than the team matters. Chores such as shaving can wait for another day when the important work of winning a title is completed, one way or the other (I’m assuming showering remains a priority, but I’m not getting close enough to any of those guys to ask them). In the NHL, where the playoffs last even longer than in the NBA, if you can believe that, you wind up with some pretty scraggly looking guys. They don’t care how they look. It’s all about the team, and if they bring home the trophy, then every stray chin follicle was worth it.

In the spirit of that level of commitment, I’ve decided to grow a Phoenix Suns 2008 Playoff Beard. The regular season ends Wednesday night. Thus, Wednesday morning will be the last day I shave until the Suns are eliminated from the playoffs or are crowned champions. I’ll be documenting my journey periodically with photos so you can see how it’s coming along. Attached to this blog will be the first photo – me, clean-shaven except for my short mustache and beard (which I ain’t shaving so I can start clean – I’ve had this thing for fifteen years and it’s not going anywhere…except that it’s going to get longer, obviously).

I’ve recently started a new job. I’m seeing someone. And in the next week, I’ll be going to two Passover seders. In short, now’s probably a time for me to be pretty concerned about my appearance. But these are the playoffs, these are the Suns, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to support them. If the Suns extend their run into June, I could start looking like a replacement guitarist for ZZ Top. Fine. It’s about the team.

I’m leading with my chin.

How Important Is Going Out With a Bang?

So my question to you for a weekend discussion is this:  How important is it to win these last three games?  If they win tonight and for some reason can’t move up or down in the rankings after tonight’s game, would you sit the starters and rest them for the playoffs? Would you only play them 20 minutes and then rest them just so they don’t get rusty?  Or would you try to win the games despite not being able to change your seeding?

I’ve always been of the opinion that each game is important.  It seems that if you let yourself go for a game or two and aren’t really trying, it would be hard to get that intensity back for the first – and maybe the second – game of the playoffs.  That could put you in a pretty deep hole with the way the West is stacked this season.

I don’t have any numbers for you today.  But I did want to get some opinions on what you think the team should do for the last three games.

Leave your comments below.  I don’t know that there is any right or wrong answer to this so keep your comments about the questions and hopefully not about the other commenters!

Have a great weekend.  GO SUNS!