(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
After a long weekend of hoops, bar-b-que, a taste of Panther football, and moving, I was looking for a topic of a column that would just write itself. After surveying many opportunities, I decided I would write it about the oncoming eclipse of the Suns.
That would be an easy one, right? After all Phoenix was down 3-0 to the Spurs facing a decisive game four in San Antonio. Duncan and company had handled the Phoenix so easily that a sweep looked like inevitability.
But a funny thing happened on the way to my laptop; the Suns rose again. With another game under Joe Johnson’s facemask and behind the steady play of Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix made just enough plays down the stretch to silence the Spurs for at least one more game.
Game 5 will be in Phoenix on Wednesday. And despite what history tells us, if the Suns win, they’re making the Finals. I know I’m probably setting myself up for more “Mike Gaines is no Vegas bookie” letters to the editor, but after watching them Monday night I have a feeling they might make history.
No team ever in the NBA playoffs has come back to win a series after being down 3-0. Four other teams have rallied back to force a game 7 – with the most recent being Portland against Dallas in 2002 – and in the conference finals, only the 1962 Pistons stretched the series to six games.
But I saw a spark in the Suns Monday night that I hadn’t seen in the previous three games. Every time San Antonio made a move in the fourth quarter, Phoenix had an answer. Most of the time that answer started with Amare.
The third year, shoulda been a Memphis Tiger forward, came up huge when his team needed him. Four plays by Stoudemire in the last 1:28 – including what could have been a series-swinging block on Tim Duncan – held the Spurs at bay and sent the teams back to the desert.
I know I briefly touched on this a couple of weeks ago, but the point needs to be made again: How can Nash be the MVP of the league, when he’s not even MVP of his own team?
Without Stoudemire, where would the Suns be? MVP’s usually get their number called in crunch time of the playoffs. If you’ve watched any of Phoenix’s playoff run, you’ll notice that Stoudemire is the guy they’re running plays for.
Screen and rolls, post-ups, clear outs; D’Antoni is pretty much running the playbook through Amare. And Monday night he answered the call.
Which is what he’s pretty much been doing throughout the season against San Antonio. He’s averaged 30 points per game against probably the finest defensive team in the league – with apologies to the Detroit Pistons.
Speaking of the Pistons, have you heard the latest about Larry Brown? Sources confirmed Tuesday morning that the erstwhile Jayhawk, Clipper, Pacer, Sixer, Spur, et al; will be taking over basketball operations as the new President of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
I don’t mean to sound like a stand-up in need of material, but what’s up with that?! He has a good thing going with Detroit. Is he tired of the soccer hooligans that masquerade as fans there? Does he just need to be near LeBron?
Does he have a desire to live up to every nomad cliché that’s thrown at him? Someone put an anchor on this guy before he winds up coaching or being involved with every team in the league.
As far as Amare goes, it’s scary to think about how good he is going to be. I get the impression from listening to him that he knows full well that he’s quickly becoming THE post player in the Association.
Whenever I hear an interview from him, he reminds me of Clubber Lang in Rocky III.
Remember when Clubber was being interviewed before his first fight with Rocky and the guy asked him, “What’s your prediction for the fight tonight Clubber”, and after a long pause he looked into the camera and menacingly said, “Pain”? That’s what I hear from Stoudemire no matter the question or response.
If you think I’m repairing the Suns bandwagon just because the Spurs are better than a dose of Nyquil, you’re almost right.
But a funny thing has happened with San Antonio and me: I don’t find them quite as boring as I did just a week ago.
I’m not sure why it took me almost 10 years to appreciate them. Maybe it’s because Manu Giniobili is quickly becoming one of my most favorite players to watch. The way he recklessly attacks the basket is entertaining to say the least. Not to mention Parker and the steadiness of the Big Fundamental.
So, you read it here first, if the Suns win tonight, they’re making the Finals. I could be wrong, everyone knows I’ve been wrong before, but I don’t think so. If I am, I can live with it.
I just won’t be able to live with the Pistons making a repeat trip to the Finals.