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.