Will Tim Duncan’s three-point shot be another “what if” in Suns history?
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What if Cedric Ceballos hadn’t been hurt during the ’93 Finals? What if Phoenix hadn’t blown successive 2-0 leads on Houston during the Rockets back-to-back championship runs in ’94 & ’95? What if Joe Johnson hadn’t had his face rearranged by Jerry Stackhouse in ’05? What if Raja Bell hadn’t had a freak calf tear against the Mavs in ’06? What if the Suns would have had a full roster for Game 5 vs the Spurs last postseason?

Although most Suns fans refer to these examples as statements rather than questions, Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss is another example of how history repeats itself – another emotionally gripping game full of big What Ifs. Watching Tim Duncan hit that 3-pointer (did I really just write that?) to send Game 1 into double-OT was beyond surreal. I guess the Shooting Stars competition during All-Star weekend paid off. Duncan practiced the 3-point shot enough to carry his San Antonio team to victory in that event . . . and it carried over. We can add his to the litany of 3-point playoff daggers the Suns have endured (Mario Elie in ’95, Bowen in game 5 last year . . . .)

Cubs fans are generally seen as the most tortured in sports, now celebrating (is that the right term?) their 100th season since they last hoisted a championship trophy on the north side. But that franchise has been a mess from a baseball standpoint most of the last century. How often over the course of their dry spell have they put a team on the field that has fans saying, “this team is a legitimate contender?” Maybe, MAYBE 10 of those 100 seasons. As a Chicago native who spent his share of afternoons at Wrigley Field, I can tell you this: that’s not a suffering fan base, just a bunch of lemmings that love to have a good time at the ballpark.

In each of the Suns’ playoff scenarios, they had a legit contender that had a key injury, statistical improbability or freak event (see Horry hip check) jump up and bite them at an inopportune time. Let’s not kid ourselves – they were also outplayed in key moments of most, if not all, of those series. The best team wins 99.7% (roughly) of all 7-game series. Some Spurs fans got on me for a recent blog that itemized my hatred for their team. The point that most of them missed is that the hatred is lined (silver-lined?) with a tremendous respect for the accomplishments of that franchise. The Spurs have 4 championships. The Suns have a legacy of close calls.

The Suns know they let one get away on Saturday. They think the Spurs know it, too, and are confident they won’t let another get away. Rudyard Kipling wrote:

“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too . . .
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same . . .
Yours is the Earth and everything in it.”

I know this – there is no lack of trust in the Suns’ locker room. Nash, Stoudemire, O’Neal, Hill and Co. are confident and capable. D’Antoni said it best – “we feel like we’re the better team. Now we just have to prove it.” And another chapter of Phoenix playoff history will unfold Tuesday night. Suns fans hope it will be devoid of questions.

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