Kobe, Lakers halt Suns’ dream season in West Finals

Alvin Gentry kept his humor even as Kobe and the Lakers eliminated the Suns. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Alvin Gentry kept his humor even as Kobe and the Lakers eliminated the Suns. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

PHOENIX — Jared Dudley was just finishing up explaining how Kobe Bryant is “arguably” the best player on the planet when Amare Stoudemire interjected his opinion from his locker next door.

“He is the best player on the planet,” Stoudemire said. “No doubt.”

Nobody who watched Game 6 would argue with Stoudemire’s assessment, as Kobe knocked down what would be a season’s worth of tough shots for some guys in his 37-point performance Saturday night, a 111-103 Lakers victory that eliminated the Suns.

Ron Artest chipped in as well with his best game of the series on the heels of his miraculous last-second put-back in Game 5, scoring 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting after entering the night 12-for-35 overall and 3-for-15 from three in Games 3-5.

“Ron Artest got it going,” Stoudemire said. “I think his confidence from hitting the game-winner the night before carried over.”

The Lakers led by as many as 18 points late in the third quarter for the second straight game, but once again the Suns fought back, and it all started with a little Slovenian civil war when Sasha Vujacic’s flagrant-1 elbow with the Lakers up 15 led to a four-point possession that ignited the Suns.

The play completely shifted the momentum of a game previously controlled by Los Angeles and woke up the ORNG-clad Phoenix fans that seemed half dead during the Gorilla’s pre-fourth quarter dunking display. Just like that the Suns seemed to have new life.

“I was just close to him and he hit me, but that’s all it was,” said Dragic, who may have acted a bit on the fall to exaggerate the hit. “I’m not mad at him, and I hope he’s not mad at me. What happened happened and now it’s over.”

After saying on the TNT broadcast that he wanted to kill Vujacic after the game, a smiling Bryant joked postgame that “he’s still breathing.”

Unlike Game 5 when Vujacic’s defense stifled Dragic in the first half at least, The Dragon played the fourth quarter with a vengeance, scoring eight points in the final period to help bring the Suns as close as three points down with 2:19 to go.

But from there Kobe Bryant took over, hitting a couple ridiculous jumpers under intense pressure to seal the deal and patting Alvin Gentry on the butt after one of the daggers for good measure.

“I’m not sure those are shooter’s shots,” Nash said. “Those are scorer’s, best-player-in-the-game-type shots. He is incredibly skilled, talented. He’s a great competitor, clutch, skilled. What can you say? He deserves an incredible amount of praise for his ability.”

Of one of the shots, Hill said, “I was as close as you can get probably without fouling, and he hits just an unbelievable shot. You’ve got to give him credit. He hit unbelievable shots all series, and he ended the series with a great shot there at the end.”

Although it ended up all going for naught, the comeback personified the Suns’ season. They just always kept fighting and never gave up, which Dragic said is the biggest difference between Phoenix and previous teams he played on in Europe.

With the Lakers figuring out the Suns’ zone and stiffening up their own defense — particularly during Phoenix’s 19-point second quarter — this series seemed over late in the third quarter, but the Suns refused to quit even when all hope seemed to be lost.

“You see that this team has no quit, a lot of pride, a lot of determination,” Dudley said.

Added Hill, “There was no quit, no giving up.”

In what could be his final game in a Phoenix Suns uniform, Amare Stoudemire didn’t exactly sparkle. Sure, he ended up scoring a team-high 27 points while getting to the free-throw line 15 times, but he hit just 7-of-20 shots and pulled down only four rebounds (in 43 minutes) for the second straight game. The Suns were outboarded 41-31 as a team despite 13 from Channing Frye.

Poor rebounding was a trend for Stoudemire, who grabbed just 6.0 boards per game for the series, and in this contest game he struggled with the stifling interior defensive game plan Los Angeles geared to stop him.

“It was tough,” Stoudemire said. “They did a great job of anytime I caught the ball they had a box-and-one almost, guys on the elbows, guys on the box, and guys on the weak side already cheating over, so they didn’t allow me to make any moves. I was able to get going a tad bit offensively, but not the way I really wanted to because of their team.”

Stoudemire did not sound like a man ready to make a long-term commitment to the organization after the game, reiterating his 50-50 stance as I write in today’s Daily Dime and saying, “I’m not sure. Still have a long summer ahead of us. I’ve got to figure out the best decision for myself, the organization and my family.”

There will be many days ahead to discuss Stoudemire’s future, but tonight was not one of them. Instead it was a night to feel saddened by the end of the season but proud of how far the Suns have come.

In the end, while the Suns were surely disappointed by their season coming to an end, taking the long view Phoenix overachieved to the max by coming two games shy of the Finals and Alvin Gentry would not let anybody look at this night as a negative.

“It was a well-played series,” Gentry said. “We were very competitive in this series. We happened to run into a team that was the world champs and is going to have an opportunity to win another one. I think rather than have any negatives, and I told our guys, there is no negatives to anything that happened to us in the last month.

“We gave it our all. We happened to play a team, they were just better than we were in this series.”

Tags: Amar'e Stoudemire Goran Dragic Kobe Bryant Ron Artest

  • http://butthegameison.com/blog/ Mark

    Good run, Michael. I love your site, keep up the good work. You are an excellent reporter.

  • KyonoRocks

    This was the first NBA season I watched. Coming from the UK, we're not into basketball at all. I moved to China this year (which is NBA crazy) and picked the Phoenix Suns as my team after a long night researching all the teams in the NBA.

    What a great decision I made.

    I'm an Arsenal FC fan (English Football Premier League) and I appreciate highly entertaining play, young teams and I guess I'm a glutton for punishment because we barely win anything. Phoenix seemed like the perfect fit.

    This has been a great first season of the NBA for me, and the players and management have found themselves a new life-long fan.

    I'd hate to see Amar'e go because when he's in beast mode he's a ridiculous pleasure to watch. The Nash and Amar'e pick and roll is a thing of beauty (comparable to the passing play of Arsenal or Barcelona) and I'd like to know if there is anyone available for us to replace Amar'e with… I'm not hugely knowledgeable about the PnR but how important is Amar'e to the move… could anyone else execute it as well?

    I'd hate to lose any of our players. Even during the season I thought J-Rich was a bit crappy, but I've fallen in love with him over the playoffs. I love every single member of this team (except Collins and a cold Frye :P) and I hope that they all stay if it's possible.

    Still, I would be up for replacing Amar'e if we can maintain the quality of our pick and roll but gain someone who is a bit more consistent in D.

  • Mel.

    With all said and done, I have to agree with Dudley’s sentiments; I had more fun watching this Suns team than any iteration in the previous years. I had zero hopes for anything beyond another season spent fighting for the eighth seed, but these guys gutted out challenge after challenge and fought back naysayers and expectations every step of the way.

    I’m interested to see what happens with the off-season, but the odd thing is that even with the (likely) loss of Amar’e, I’m really looking forward to seeing these guys take the court again. It’s almost like a twelve-man ensemble version of the Odd Couple, they’re just a fun crew to root for.

  • Pj

    My hat is off to Kobe. No one in the galaxy could do a damn thing about those shots he hit tonight. The dude is a PHreak and is making the best 2 guard in history question a legitimate debate.

    Great season phx, love the hustle ballers off our bench and the talented guys we run out there every night. If Amare had been a bit more effective early in the pick and roll maybe things would have turned out a bit differently.

    Speaking of… did we see Amare’s last game in purple/orange? The guy is the biggest enigma currently in basketball. When is offense is flowing, he gets legitimatly better in all facets of the game… but when things are sticking and he cant get his looks he becomes a liability on both ends. Not sure if you can win against the best with him as you focal point, even though it pains me to say that.

    If Amare leaves, i hope he thrives somewhere with a great player on his wing. And i sure as hell hope the suns have a contingency plan @ power foward. Seems like Dirk would be an incredible fit. Might be time to make some phone calls to your buddy Steve, just in case.

  • Pj

    p.s. @Schwartz (and all the other staff as well!)-
    Great blog fellas, you guys made my suns season better as a spectator. Good reporting, good columns, good community. I’ll always remember this team’s great run and this blog’s commentary will have a firm place in that recollection. Keep up the good work

  • http://morgamic.com/ Mike

    Good season. I’m excited about next year.

  • Mel.

    The curious thing is, when that buzzer sounded and the DDL officially “noted” the end of the season, I wasn’t the least bit funk-di-fied about the outcome. Even the potential loss of Amar’e doesn’t feel as wrenching to my Suns-fan sensibilities as it did a month ago; the guy will do what he has to do, but something about his personality (“Enigma” is a damn good word for it) never really cemented itself with the team’s character over the regular season.

    His numbers were outstanding, his contributions were invaluable and his willingness to compete was admirable, but after the ups and downs, I’d almost be more bent out of shape if the Suns lost Lopez, Frye or Dragic in the off-season. It’s guys like them, Lou, Dudley and–I can’t believe I’m writing this–J-Rich that seem to characterize the plucky, smashmouth heart of the team… a bunch of guys with guts who were at their best when they had Amar’e in monster mode or a healthy Nash to fall into step behind.

    Nowitzki is definitely that, and while I’d guess that the chances of the Suns snagging him are slim, he’d be an outstanding puzzle piece in complimenting the developing guys and the role players. Hope Steve’s still got his speed-dial working…

  • Brian

    Where else would Dirk leave Dallas for if not to play with Nash?

    Will Dirk be the clutch player we need? Would you trade Dirk for Amare at this point in their careers?

  • OhYeahButter!

    I just wanted to take the time to say thanks to the Phoenix Suns for one of the greatest season our franchise ever had. This season was great not only because we were picked to not get to the playoffs, lose the 1st round, get bounced out of the 2nd round by the Spurs and get swept by the Lakers, the Suns persevered. They didn’t tell ESPN, TNT, statistics, experts to shove it. They showed them on the court and that’s what really counts.
    I don’t know what the future has in stored for Amare or any of the other players that can opt out for more money, but I wish them well. I truly feel that the Suns organization has something special here and that we are but one or two pieces away from taking all of it next season.
    Until then, I will be waiting and watching this summer in great anticipation of what’s to come.
    Thank you Suns, Jess (OhYeahButter!)

  • Mavs Fan

    I know your heartache Suns fans. I remember crying during 2006 NBA final.
    And I genuinely like Nash, Hill, and Gentry.
    I felt like whoever won this series would win it all, so I think you had a legitimate chance at the title.
    Anyhow, I like my Mavs, but I want Dirk to win a ring, and I wouldn’t mind if he left to go to the Suns to get one. He’s actually a constant 20+ pts 8-9 rebounds every night type of player, and one of the best FT shooters (not to mention 3 pt shooting).
    I think he would fit well there.
    I don’t he will win any ring here (Dallas) unless there is a major over-haul with what we have now, so he might as well help you guys (especially his bestie Nash) win one while we rebuild.

  • Mavs Fan

    The more I think about this the more it makes sense…seriously. He can be your Gasol – a 7 footer who can pass really well out of double team (unlike Amare)
    He doesn’t have much defense, but he is definitely not worse than Amare.

  • Dave

    This was a tough playoff season for suns fans. For the better part of it we cheered with something else occupying the back of our minds.

    With all the headlines surrounding the city and state, basketball offered a good distraction… and a reason to be proud. As sad as I am now this was kind of a fitting end in a sense… None of us would want our only championship to come under a cloud of controversy.

    I hope next summer suns basketball will be the only thing about phoenix dominating headlines.

  • justin

    i am for sure going to miss this season and this team and this roster. i have been following this team since august when i posted a video on youtube with every player and saying the suns would win the title. my dream almost came true.. although we fell short this was an unbelievable season and i had fun and enjoyed watching every single minute of every game. i want everyone to stay from nashypoo down to jarron. the chemistry on this team was unbelievable i almost felt like i was on the team. hats off to a fantasticyear

  • Mike Meez

    Amazing season Suns. It’s hard losing to the Lakers but Suns really did outperform even my high expectations at the beginning of the season. Kobe and Co. made some amazing shots tonight. I can’t believe his shooting percentage was just under 50%, seemed like everything he put up was going in. Suns didn’t play as well as they could have tonight but unlike Game 5 I felt that the Lakers won this one and not that the Suns lost it.

    If Amare leaves, it would be great to snag Dirk. I’ve never thought of it before but it actually makes sense. Dirk could exercise a $21.5 million dollar option next year but could decide to opt out for the same reason that Amare is opting out of $17 million- to get a long-term contract. If that’s the case, I’m sure he would love to reunite with Nash and would likely take a pay cut to be here. Nash and Nowitzki know they don’t have much time left and want to win a championship more than anything even if it costs them some money. Nowitzki said exactly that 2 years ago when talking about 2010 http://mavsblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2010/05/nowitzki-is-true-to-his-word-1.html. The Suns would sorely miss Amare’s inside game but it would be interesting to see what the team could do with two seven-footers on the court in RoLo and Dirk.

    Anyway, I’m pretty much checking out at this point. I would cheer for any other team from the West (other than maybe the Spurs) or would like to see another legit East team face the Lakers (a la Cleveland). I know David Stern is creaming his pants over this matchup but I’m really not interested. I don’t want to see the two mini-Yankees of the NBA duke it out. I guess Celtics get my support by default because they’re the lesser of two evils, I at least like their players. If Celtics are healthy, I predict Celtics in 6.

    Great job on the blog. I will certainly be back for more during the offseason and for next season. Don’t worry Suns fans, it’ll be our turn someday and it’ll be worth the wait.

  • Jed

    I would like to thank Steve Kerr for putting together such an incredible team this year. Amar’e will do what he will, but I would like to keep the rest of our guys… I can’t imagine losing any of them next season.

    I love Amar’e, but I really don’t think he’s what the team needs to go all the way. Dirk would be an amazing fit and it would be great to see him and Nash play together once again.

    Come on, Kerr, make it happen!

    Absolutely love Dudley, Dragic, Frye, etc. In fact, I really think Dragic will become something special in this league; he’s fearless and at times plays so well I can’t believe he’s coming off the bench.

    Great season, Suns. I’ll be following your off season activity closely. Make me proud!

  • Mel.

    Asani, I think it's as simple as this: if Amar'e doesn't want to stay, then the argument that the Suns should choke out max cash in order to convince him is fairly pointless.

    I put a lot of the blame on the Suns for the way they dangled the guy in the mid-season (A necessity, maybe, but it didn't do much in reinforcing a mutual loyalty between the two), but in the end, it takes two to tango. We saw monster Amar'e in the last four months, and we saw "Who, Me?" Amar'e, and–to be honest–neither of them looked like a guy who will be producing consistently at a top-tier level for the next few years.

    If he can get his ring elsewhere, then more power to him; he's put in his time and he made this deep playoff run possible. But I'd say that unlike Nash–who clearly sat down and decided that Phoenix was where he wanted to spend the rest of his quality years–STAT's loyalties aren't as cut and dry. Keeping a guy around for the sake of padded pockets when he's got an iffy heart is one of those things that NEVER works out in the long run, regardless of the sport.

  • Nashty Zealot

    Thanks to the guys for an unforgettable, deep run into the post season.

    This team is so fun to watch, ala the Butler Bulldogs. There was no quit in the TEAM.

    However, I have to put this out there … Amar’e having 4 rebounds in a game of this magnitude is just plainly UNACCEPTABLE !!! Where is the heart and the desire ? Defense and rebounding is about wanting it. He’s a tremendous offensive talent when he’s “on”, but there’s too much flat footed, uninspired D at times, when he’s sorely needed.

    It was great to see Frye persevere and get back on track shooting the ball and what about 13 boards from him last night ?

    Dudley, Barbosa, Dragic’ notch the energy level off the chart. Let’s get Earl Clark some serious playing time next season.

    The Suns make watching the NBA fun again !!!

  • LakeShowForLife

    I am a Lakers fan. And hell yes, I am here to gloat.

    Despite your very best efforts as the little engine that could, you came unraveled, thoroughly outclassed by a franchise that has ALWAYS been and will ALWAYS be superior to you. You are inferior in every aspect to us.

    Yours is a team of has-beens like Nash and chokers like Amare. This offseason, when Amare leaves for a better team, you will sink back into mediocrity (well, you've always been in it, actually) and you will remain irrelevant, unliked, and a team that chokes and chokes and chokes.

    Your high-school level zone defense was a joke. You were utterly destroyed. You were exposed as pathetic losers.

    We destroyed your souls.

  • Tony

    Lakeshow, bro, all I can say is that you must be one sad little man if you feel the need to do things like this. You reek of someone who sat behind the fence watching athletes play in school and now you think because you got a computer and an opinion that you're on the team. If you ever actually got on the court, you would know what it is to win graciously and lose proud, rather than showing everything that's wrong with fan culture. I feel pity for you, because people like you never enjoy the game. It's all about your phony sense of pride and the "W", and jumping ship the minute things go wrong.

    You say "us," but the Lakers are great despite no-class nut huggers like you. Our team has always had pride, even when you band wagon clowns forget about us all year long, and show up talking this weak $hit when it's the Finals. Like you got season tickets, bro? Don't make me laugh. You catch the games when you got nothing better to do and grub on fried chicken, wearing your XXXL Kobe jersey and trying to be an internet thug when you know it's safe to take cheap shots.

    As for a real Lakeshow fan (And one who was representing the GWF before kids like this idiot were even born), I want to thank the Suns for a great series. You made me doubt a little bit in this one, and even if the better team did win, you guys had a hell of a series.

    Just ignore these maricones who want to talk trash now that they can like the hamburger grease off their fingers and act like they had something to do with Kobe's 37. They don't represent LA fan culture. They don't represent fan culture, period. They're just sad little fat kids who grew up to be sad little fat dudes with a little bit of vocab, who take out their sexual frustration on message boards. :-D

  • Mel.

    LMAO. I think Tony just became my WCF MVP. Ouch.

  • Bastian

    Thanks for an amazing, unforgettable season. The memories of it speak for themselves, words can’t describe it.

    Gotta be proud

  • Nashty Zealot

    No Beasley …PLEASE !!! That would not enhance our TEAM chemistry.

  • sun also rises

    lmao. someone impound lakeshow's thesaurus, this kid has been playing too much damn world of warcraft.

  • asani

    The suns will never win without Amare so please don’t get it twisted suns fans we do need him. The lakers did a decent job guarding him and made sure he wouldn’t be one on one with their guys too often. The suns just need another guy who can score consistently and they will be ok. I thought the zone defense was stupid. Professionals will always find the remedy for such a defense. Grant Hill basically did nothing for us besides game 2. I would love for Dirk to come but to come along with Amare being here. That combination will destoy the entire league. Nash, Dirk and Amare. Amare should definitely stay but we need to add another serious player to the equation. Hopefully Robin can comeback with a polished offensive game next year and really be a go to guy. We also need Barbosa to come back and be the player he once was because he fell off tremendously

  • MAClaker

    I have been to a lot of fans websites but I must say, THE SUNS FANS ARE CLASSY if they are all like this!!! their team goes down to a great team, they dont bash the teams but give credit to who credit is due. my LAKERS played well and had revenge not just for 2006-2007 but for 2008 finals in their minds.. that too us over the hunch. FANTASTIC games by the suns… you lost to the world champions…keep your heads held high. Next season is still an opportunity. Kudos to your coach, still smiling even in a loss.. Kudos to the suns team. BUT NO KUDOS TO THE ARIZONA LAW!!!

  • http://www.twitter.com/arturbm Artur Mascarenhas

    Ok, congrats to the Lakers. They have the better player, the better coach and, ultimately, the better team.

    Gotta give A LOT of props to these Suns. NOBODY expected them to go so far. develop such chemistry, such bench power and such conscience about their own limitations. Too bad it came 5 years too late.

    Its waaaaaaaay to early to talk about offseason. We dont have any draft pick to sell. Maybe Sarver got the taste of having a good team and will spend some money. God knows.

    Anyway, congrats Michael on your terrific job covering this season and I sure hope to keep seeing great posts in this blog.


  • Mr Hish


    I feel sorry for your mother.

    Laker scum like you are the reason abortion is legal.

  • PJ

    Nice to see a lakers fan come in here and not rub our nose in it. I honestly think the Lakers improved because of this series. The suns brought out the best in RonRon and Kobe, and that will probably carry over to the finals.

    KyonoRocks- Amare is a great pick and roll player because he is so effective rolling to the hoop as well as on the outside jumper. His ability to do both such an efficient clip is PART of what makes the play so deadly, the other being Nash’s ability to see the court/ thread the needle on those passes. We would sorely miss his versatily on the pick and roll.

    But Robin Lopez has been making great strides in the pick and roll and pick and pop game. If you had said last year that Robin would make the 15 footer consistently, i would have laughed in your face. Not to mention he’s like a big Winnebago lumbering to the hoop. Long and short of it, the pick and roll wouldn’t leave Phx with Amare, it would simply change personnel.

  • Matt

    A Lakers fan here, but I’m not here to gloat. The Suns played a fantastic series. The Lakers beat a very good team. And I want to say that Alvin Gentry is the classiest Coach in all of Sports. Man, I love that guy. The Suns should keep him for as long as possible. I don’t know if you guys have ever met him, but I did once when I was younger when he was with the Clippers. He’s an extremely nice man, who’s full of class. The Sports World needs more Alvin Gentrys

  • Bond

    First, I think everyone of us should thank Michael Schwartz for his great work.

    Second, I think we all should be grateful for being a fan of the possibly best 10-men basketball (sometimes 11 or more) unit ever. It is my fortune to be here with Suns this season.

    Too much to say, I am like without soul for a day long after game 6.

  • Pingback: DLT Sunday Reads | Desert Living Today

  • Hayden


    Michael, idea for next post: Dirk to Suns. Could it be?

    I think it’s more likely Amare wants to go to Miami (or New York). If that happens, I guess the Suns would try engineer a sign and trade. Then the question is whether Gentry can do the same with Beasley that he did with Amare. They are both talented headcases.

  • Michael

    if any of you guys have a facebook, join my group, its called “I’m a Laker fan. LOL jk I’m not a bandwagon fan”


    it was a good season for the suns, alvin gentry developed a bench, a very good bench. if he can get earl clark to play at least decently next season, and if the suns roster doesn’t change, i think the suns can be very, very good. that along with dragic getting better, and barbosa getting his game back.

  • Mel.

    I want to see plenty of that Nash-Dragic backcourt combination, next season. I understand the importance of keeping those two in parity as an “apprenticeship,” but Dragon’s enough of a shooter to give up the point to Nash, and still have it work. Put Steve out there with a guy who’s fast enough to read his bullet passes, and there’s suddenly an eighteen-foot zone that’s WIDE open for either of them to drop their jumpers.

    As for Clark, I really wonder what would have happened if he’d been spoon-fed more minutes over the course of the regular season. The Suns did better against the Lakers’ bigs than they were supposed to, but having another sturdy body to bang in the paint–counter-weighing Lopez’s continued foul trouble, early on–might have actually had some impact.

    Ah, well. “Couldn’a, but didn’a…”

  • Mavs fan

    I don’t think Cuban will let him go, but Dirk has consistently said he will take a pay cut to have a championship level team. If Dallas doesn’t do anything good with their roster, I wouldn’t mind seeing him go and get one with his buddy Nash.

  • Rosie

    Hey there LakeShowForLife, you're a jack ass! You need to GET a LIFE! What the hell are you doing here?! I agree with MAClaker, Matt and Tony. I am a Laker fan who just wanted to say "WOW!" to this amazing team called the Suns & compliment their amazing play! To all you Suns fans out there, you are an amazing group of people. It's so easy to live in So Cal & be a Laker fan, I hope that my next sentence comes out with the sincerity that is truly meant from my heart………….again, it's so easy to be a Laker fan, but it must be difficult to be a Sun's fan, dealing with the ups & downs……..then again, maybe it's not that difficult as I found myself easily swayed from the Lakers & cheering on the Suns! Sorry MAClaker, Matt and Tony. Lol! Could it be that I am now an official Suns fan? Well………it's the Lakers & the Celtics in the finals………who am I rooting for??? Hello?! The Lakers of course! I am not THAT far gone! Although I must admit, I was looking forward to a Suns-Celtics match up! I look forward to watching the Suns next season. Good luck! Oh I have one more comment for Dave, who cares if there was "drama" regarding the controversy of the Arizona immigration law, I am sure that the Suns fans would've LOVED winning despite the "controversy". Just my two cents. Peace to all (except lakeshowforlife!) from a So Cal girl.

  • http://www.valleyofthesuns.com Michael Schwartz

    Thanks to everyone for the kind words. This was a truly exhilarating team to cover, and I think my teammates Schmitz and Lockman deserve credit as well. Thanks to all of you for reading, this community has grown tremendously since this time last year when all we were talking about was if Earl Clark would be a good fit at No. 14. This obviously figures to be a franchise-altering offseason, and I look forward to having all of you along for the ride!