Sunday, May 9, 2010
Phoenix Suns Advance to Western Conference Finals
Alright... all of the "Los Suns" crap aside, I'm pretty darned happy basketball fan tonight.
The Phoenix Suns swept their nemesis, The San Antonio Spurs, in four straight games tonight. This is a monumental achievement for The Suns, who had lost to The Spurs in their four most recent meetings with The Spurs, including the 2004-05 Western Conference Finals.
These are two different teams than we've seen in the past, as all of the players mentioned during their post-game interviews. The Suns have a new coach and a different system than the "Seven Seconds or Less" that made them an icon of the past decade, a fan favorite around the league, and a guaranteed early exit from the postseason.
This version of The Suns in a hard-nosed, grind-it-out team that has learned the fundamentals of the game. They have learned to play half-court offense effectively by spreading the floor and moving the ball well.
Suns Coach Alvin Gentry was an assistant under former coach Mike D'Antoni, who left for New York and The Knicks following the 2007-08 season. Gentry took over when Terry Porter was fired midway through the 2008-09 season. In addition to being an assistant coach under such recognizable names as Larry Brown and San Antonio's Greg Popovich, Gentry has also led The Miami Heat, The Detroit Pistons, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Suns have possibly the best pick-and-roll combination in the league with Steve Nash and Amaré Stoudemire. The tandem has recently been compared to John Stockton and Karl Malone, who are often considered the best pick-and-roll combo in league history.
In addition to being one of the best ever running that play, Nash is a two-time MVP, and at 36 years old is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He has the longest running streak (112) of playoff game appearances without making it to the finals, which is both a daunting statistic and a testament to his greatness. Nash is also a seven-time all-star and one of the best free-throw and three-point shooters in NBA history.
Stoudemire was on the trading block around the time of the All-Star game this year. However, once the trade deadline passed and it became obvious that he would remain a Sun, Amaré elevated his game to a new level. He is now a force to be reckoned with in the lane, and has developed great accuracy from 15-18 feet.
A great threat from three-point range or to drive the lane, Jason Richardson is coming into his own since arriving in Phoenix midway through the 2008-09 season. A former slam-dunk contest champion, Richardson is a barometer of sorts for the team. When Richardson scores over 20 points in a game, The Suns are undefeated in the playoffs.
And then there's revitalized legend Grant Hill. Hill has become a huge part of The Suns success. He has the ability to play nearly any position on the floor, has incredible intelligence on the court, and accepts whatever role the coaching staff asks of him. He has been a starter and a bench player since coming to Phoenix and never complained. Hill came out of Duke University with incredible expectations, but his career has been riddled by injuries. However, since arriving in Phoenix Hill has advanced out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career, has played in nearly every game without injury, and now is playing in the Conference finals with a chance to go to the NBA finals.
Plus, one of their starters, second year player Robin Lopez, has not played throughout the playoffs. The Suns are hopeful that he might return for the next series.
Additionally they have built a very effective bench. Second year point guard Goran Dragic had a bit of a coming out party on Friday night, scoring 23 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter and effectively dismantling The Spurs by himself. He has shown incredible learning capacity, and appears to be growing into The Suns point guard of the future.
Chris Dudley came to the team as a "throw-in" player in a trade last year that brought the known Jason Richardson to the team, but Number 3 has become a standout in his own right, bringing great defense and deadly accuracy from three point range.
Lou Amundson is a fan-favorite in Phoenix, bringing great defensive end rebounding energy to the floor. Chants of "Lou" ring throughout America West Arena when Amundson blocks one of his opponents shots or makes one of his trademark two-handed dunks.
Former Arizona Wildcat Channing Frye has the height to play the inside game, but has also shown the ability to stretch the defense with his excellent shooting, especially from outside the tree-point arc.
The Suns do not yet know who they will play in the Western Conference Finals. All indicators point toward the Los Angeles Lakers defeating The Utah Jazz, since the Lakers are up in that series 3 games to none.
The Lakers won the season series against The Suns 3-1, while The Suns and Jazz split their season series at two games each. If the Lakers win the series against The Jazz, they will have home court against The Suns, but if by some chance The Jazz came back to win that series, The Suns would have home court.
One final thought... The Suns had the best winning percentage in the Western Conference in the second half of the year (.793) going 23-6 since the all-star break. Either competitor will be a difficult match-up, and The Lakers are the defending NBA Champions.
Regardless, it is good to see The Spurs "go fishing" at the expense of my hometown team.