This one’s for all those Suns fans that dream….
Wow, it still so hard to take in and almost as hard to believe the day would actually come. To see the 2014/2015 NBA Championship Banner raised in the SB Nation/Southwest Airlines Dome…well it was an incredibly emotional day. I looked around the crowd and I saw many former Suns players openly weeping and hugging one another. Former Suns broadcaster Eddie Johnson stood directly adjacent to me with arms raised skyward and tears just streaming down his face. Suns Player-Personnel Director Steve Nash lay down on the court and just stared up at the banner. All of it was just totally unbelievable…As a reporter, it was a challenge not to get caught up in the raw emotions that were at play.
To be sure the Suns fans expected good things this season with a free agent haul that included Andrea Bargnani, veteran sharpshooter Mike Miller, and back-up PG Darren Collison. The team was only expected to improve upon their playoff showing of last year now that reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, veteran center Marcin Gortat, and do-everything forward Luol Deng had some help to take some of the load off of them. The fans definitely expected a good playoff run, but they surely didn’t expect the trophy that had eluded them so many times in the past.
Looking back over the season, it is the reporters view that the team went through a gauntlet of highs and lows. The team seemed to gel so quickly in pre-season even with all the new faces – almost too quickly…they roared out the gate, stumbled a bit, and then seemingly looked invincible through December and January. PG Luke Ridnour was a maestro, leading the league with mind-boggling 13.3 assists per game through. Westbrook torched the league for over 29 ppg and looked unstoppable. PF Markieff Morris and Gortat were the best rebounding duo in the NBA and the bench mob led by veteran Jared Dudley averaged nearly 30ppg.
The good times didn’t last thought, though. Back-up SG Mike Miller started what was arguably the worst shooting stretch of his career. The bench seemingly couldn’t slow anyone down anymore. Veteran back-up big-men Channing Frye and Bargnani suffered what looked to be a season ending injuries and dreams of another playoff run seemed wildly in doubt. The team promptly lost 8 of 9 and Suns coach Rick Carlisle seemed unsure what direction he wanted to take now that the Suns bench firepower had dissipated. It is at this point that Grant Hill stepped in and made what is one of the most clutch decisions in team history.
It’s hard to find any transaction GM Grant Hill has made over the last 24 months and not be inundated by supporters who want to extoll the genius of said move and detractors who have countless arguments as to why it may be just chalked up to luck. However, any historian looking back over the careers of the Suns GMs, will say that the trade-deadline deal for Amare Stoudemire may go down as one of the best Suns trades ever, if not the most popular with the fans. Charlotte had relegated the former Suns stand-out to mop up duty after the Knicks had used their amnesty clause on him a season earlier. All the Bobcats asked for him was the hobbled Bargnani and a conditional second round pick.
The trade energized Stoudemire and the team. Coming off the bench to form a three big man tandem with Gortat & Morris, Stoudemire turned back the hands of time and nearly dunked his way to the sixth man of the year award. The turning point was the February 28th game against the Clippers…Amare entered the game at the 5:37 mark of the first quarter and promptly facialized Clips big man DeAndre Jordan with a savage dunk.The arena burst alive with "oohs" and "aahs' and Amare quickly walked over to the assistant coach Tom Chambers on the sideline and told him “This time, I’m bringing a championship to Phoenix.” He looked at Robert Sarver in the stands, nodded, and walked back to the court.
That marked the beginning of the Suns roll to the championship. The team promptly reeled off 14 straight victories and played .800 ball from that point on. The Suns first round opponent, the Grizzlies had no chance, losing by an average of 28 points. The second round opponent, the Clippers stole the opener from the Suns but Russell Westbrook and Luol Deng woke up and promptly torched the Clips fragile back court for 47 ppg per game for the remainder of the series. Series to the Suns 4-2. The Defending champs OKC was the next victim in the Western Conference Finals as Westbrook light up his former team for an unearthly 33 ppg during the series. kevin Durant nearly equaled his former teammate with 27 ppg, but it wasn't enough as the Suns frontcourt overwhelmed Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison.
The only thing that stood in the Suns way was the Miami Heat who were still looking for the first championship for Lebron James. As usual, Lebron wilted like a flower in the dead of winter and the Heat proved little resistance for the Suns juggernaut. It really wasn't as close as the scores would indicate and at the end, the Heat looked like a beaten team. Game, Set and Match to the Suns. After the game 5 blowout win on the Suns homecourt, Amare sought out his former pick and roll partner, Steve Nash, and hugged him for seemingly an hour. Nash on his part did not seem to mind and nobody else did either as reporters flashed photo after photo of the embrace. Jared Dudley giddily chased his teammates with the Larry O'Brien trophy to the delight of rookie Nate Earlester.
Your 2014/215 NBA Champs, the Phoenix Suns…! What a season to remember. If we never have another like it, let’s enjoy it while we can. Suns forever….!