Supernova Series: The single game of the ages

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With the unveiling of new Phoenix Suns uniforms came memories of the past. There have been big names involving franchise cornerstones Steve Nash and Charles Barkley, but role players like Bo Outlaw – remember that triple-double – have had their moments as well. In a mini-series we’ll call the Supernova Series, the Valley of the Suns staff will share their favorite memories of the Phoenix Suns. But first, what is a supernova?

supernova – a star that explodes catastrophically owing to either instabilities following the exhaustion of its nuclear fuel or gravitational collapse following the accretion of matter from an orbiting companion star, becoming for a few days up to one hundred million times brighter than the sun.

THE PEAK of the Stephon Marbury’s success came just months before the Steve Nash era hit the Valley, and it was a reminder of how quickly the tides change in the NBA. The Suns slipped into the playoffs in 2013 Milwaukee Bucks-like fashion and found themselves opening the postseason against a 60-win Spurs team. Oddly enough, the matchup had given the Suns the regular season advantage so not too surprisingly, Phoenix would prove that it wasn’t going to roll over in Game 1.

This was Amare Stoudemire’s rookie year, Joe Johnson’s second, and the prime of Stephon Marbury and Shawn Marion. San Antonio was led by none other than Tim Duncan but also had second-year point guard Tony Parker, who during the regular season had been abused by Marbury to the tune of 32.5 points per game. Parker, meanwhile, had only mustered 29 percent shooting against the Suns point guard.

Forget that this was Game 1 of the first round. The gritty, then-defensive-minded Suns under head coach Frank Johnson would make one of the most memorable Suns games in the last 20 years as an eighth seed in the opening game of the first-round playoff series.

Down 87-84 with 15 seconds left and needing to go the length of the floor, Stoudemire set a screen for Marbury at halfcourt. Instead of rolling through the paint, the rookie forward drifted to the top of the three-point arc, where Marbury hit him with a pass. Fluidly, Stoudemire, who had hit 2-of-10 three-pointers all year long, stepped into a shot and banked it off the glass for a tie that would force overtime.

The miracle bank-shot would soon be overshadowed, and the game would soon become an outlier in regards to how the luck of the Suns often went against the Spurs over the next six postseasons. With five seconds left in the overtime and Phoenix playing the foul game down by two points, Duncan bricked a second free throw off the back of the rim and Marbury took it the distance before tossing a running three-pointer off the glass for a one-point, 96-95 victory.

Marbury in the last week has been named by Mike Bibby and Kobe Bryant as one of the toughest players in the league, and it was certainly a valid argument then. But after the Suns lost to the Spurs in six games in 2003, the roster would quickly hit rebuilding mode — and Nash was quickly scooped up in free agency.

That 2002-03 Suns roster goes to show how fragile a player’s place in the NBA can be from year to year. Arguably, that was the height of Marbury’s career – he never had much success in the postseason – and he’d soon be more well-known for filming personal videos involving vaseline. The 2002-003 squad also pinpointed the rise of Stoudemire, Johnson and Tony Parker, and the fading legacies of Penny Hardaway and Tom Gugliotta. Then, it was hard to see Hardaway and Gugliotta as All-Star level players. Now, it’s hard to have imagined that Stoudemire and Johnson would have the third- and fourth-highest NBA salaries in 2012-13 despite already finding themselves on the downturn.

But that game? That was a heck of a memory.

What’s your favorite Phoenix Suns memory?

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