Exactly six months ago, the Suns limped out of the AT&T Center in San Antonio bearing the burden of another ugly exit at the hands of the hated Spurs while rumors of their coach’s imminent demise swirled through the building.
For Suns fans, nothing could be worse, the combination of a first-round exit in a year the Suns again had their eyes on the prize, the inevitable news that the “Seven Seconds or Less” Era would end with a whimper and without a banner and fact that those dirty scoundrels in the Alamo City were the culprits once again.
That’s the same place the 2006-07 Suns’ season ended and the same team that has ended four of Phoenix’s last five playoff runs.
The Shaq trade itself can be viewed as the Suns admitting if you can’t beat them, join them, by slowing down the team with a roster better built for halfcourt playoff basketball. The Porter-D’Antoni switch and subsequent change in philosophy only drives home that point further.
With 4:45 left in the first half of Game 1 of last year’s playoff series the adjustment in philosophy seemed to be genius, as the Suns led by 16 after twice beating the Spurs in the regular season in convicing fashion with Shaq, including a 96-79 throttling in San Antonio that my roommate at the time who is a Spurs fan couldn’t even watch.
That brings us to today, and why we hate the Spurs.
It isn’t only because of the five reasons the Arizona Republic suggests – flopping, complaining, luck, questionable tactics (my favorite reason thanks to Bruce Bowen kicking Amare in the Achilles and Nash in the groin) and an unlovable core – it’s because they play a boring brand of basketball that the Suns just can’t beat, making them the sole reason the Suns haven’t won a championship or three in the Nash Era.
The Suns are Luke Skywalker and the Spurs Darth Vader, just the Suns never win.
Of the three playoff losses the during the last four seasons, there’s no question 2006-07 takes the cake as the toughest.
The 2004-05 Suns were just happy to be in the West Finals and had already exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations. Last year was the first round, and if you can’t get out of the first round you can’t play the ‘What if’ game as a legitimate championship contender.
But in 06-07, I always believed the winner of that series would win it all, as the Spurs eventually did.
I still believe the Suns were the better team. If not for the Amare and Diaw suspensions when Horry knocked Nash into the fifth row in the closing seconds of what should have been a franchise-changing Game 4 victory for a different reason, the Suns’ trophy case may not be so bare.
It will be sad if the Nash Era ends without the Suns ever being able to clear the San Antonio hump, and now there are tougher hurdles to pass in the West in Los Angeles and New Orleans.
But what better place for the Suns to start their season than the building in which it always seems to end?