Holy Goran Dragic, Batman! The Phoenix Suns posted the most impressive playoff effort of the season in last night's victory over their arch nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs. The game was on the road. The four-time champion Spurs were desperate for a victory, trailing 2-0 in the series. On top of that, the Spurs played well, the Suns just played better. And on top of that topping, due to their newfound toughness, I never thought they were out of the game, despite trailing by as many as 18 points. This is why I have stopped running alongside the Suns' bandwagon, and I made the leap on board successfully. After all, it's what Dirk would've wanted.
So where has this newfound toughness come from? I would say it's the right mix of veterans following the right leader, all of whom have encountered adversity, and feed off each other's desire to win. The best argument for this may have been addressed during last night's game, when the commentator claimed that none of the Suns' individual players were known as good defenders, yet they've been playing great defense as a whole. This tells me two things. The coach, Alvin Gentry, has done a great job of getting his players to buy into the idea that they will never achieve their ultimate goal without playing defense. Second, good defense usually comes down to effort and a will to win, which I believe starts with Steve Nash and runs through their entire roster. Plain and simple, they want it more than the other teams.
Steve Nash has experienced many playoff heartbreaks throughout his career. He's seen his best teammate, Amar'e Stoudemire (Matt P-Chang), get injured and derail their chances in 2006. In 2007, an altercation, started by the Spurs nonetheless, saw Amar'e-Shang and Boris Diaw get suspended for taking three steps off the bench after seeing their leader, Steve Nash, get bodychecked into the press table. Those suspensions came for the pivotal Game 5 at home with the series all square, which they lost, followed by a road loss in Game 6 to lose the series. Not to mention that Tim Donaghy refereed a controversial Game 3 in that series. Yea, the guy that bet on games, remember him? The NBA doesn't. The heartbreak from 2008 came fairly, and from a usual suspect, but in an unusual way. Seconds away from a Game 1 victory on the road, Tim Duncan hit a 3-pointer to send the game into overtime, a game the Spurs eventually won, and the Suns never recovered from. This is the type of adversity that builds character, toughness, and a do-whatever-it-takes-to-win type of attitude.
You'll notice a good majority of that heartbreak took place against the Spurs, the opponent they find themselves up 3-0 on now. Finally getting over the hump that is the Spurs will give them loads of confidence and a "this is our year" feeling in the locker room. It's reminiscent of the Dallas Mavericks in 2006, who were propelled to a Championship (wait, they lost?) after getting over their own hump of beating the Spurs in the conference semifinals. I see a similar path for these Suns. I like the way they matchup against the Lakers. The Lakers' biggest weakness is their second unit, which happens to be the Suns' strength. They will kill them in that aspect. Also, Derek Fisher is a great matchup with Nash. Nash won't have to kill himself on the defensive end, and should be able to penetrate on him with ease. You could argue that the two biggest weaknesses for the Lakers are the two biggest strengths for the Suns. Add in that they can throw the wily Grant Hill and the scrappy Jared Dudley at Kobe, and I believe that could lead to some frustrations.
So lets all get board with the Suns now. All the other teams are boring and you know it. LeBron is the most exciting boring superstar of all time. Nobody with half a brain could cheer for the Lakers. The Magic? They had their chance. The Suns have led the league in scoring five years in a row. They got Grant "Squeaky" Hill, out of the first round for the first time in his career. They got the least talked about superstar in the league, Amar'e-Qwang Stoudemire. I guarantee you'll like Jared Dudley. Jason Richardson's swish-3's are the prettiest shot in the league. They got something called a Goran Dragic carving up the Spurs in their biggest quarter of the season. And they got Steve Nash, how could anyone not root for him? Dirk does. I do. And yes, you will. And if I haven't convinced you yet, maybe this picture will...