Six games into the new season, the Phoenix Suns sit at a mediocre 3-3. By most standards, this is neither that bad, nor that good; especially considering schedule thus far.
Just another average NBA team going through a transitional period, right?
Well, those who have actually watched the Suns play, rather than just looking at the stats and box scores, might have a different take on this Suns' team.
Sure, the Suns are still in the process of re-building after a make-over that saw their last remaining superstar, and long-time face of the franchise head off to La-La Land to
chase a ring be closer to his kids with the ultra-talented Lakers.
And yes, the Suns underwent a near total team transformation that saw only four returning players from the year prior.
But rather than seeing a group of players who are content with just going through the motions as a "re-building" team, this Suns roster is showing grit, mental toughness, and a never-say-quit attitude.
Let's take an early look at the Suns thus far in the season through the microcosm of the last two games they've played. Two very different, almost opposite paths taken to the same eventual destination...a Suns win.
Suns vs. Bobcats
On Wednesday night, they played against the young Charlotte Bobcats team on the last leg of the three-game road trip. The Suns jumped out to an early lead in the first and second quarter leading by as many as 16 points in the first half.
The Suns looked as if they were going to cruise to an easy victory in Charlotte, only to find themselves on the wrong end of a run at the start of the second half that left them up by only four points to end the third quarter.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Bobcats continued to mount an impressive comeback against the Suns and eventually tied the game with 10 minutes to go. It looked like the Suns had lost all their momentum and were destined to relinquish control of the game and limp back to Phoenix with their tails between their legs.
But then something changed. The Suns, behind a flurry of three's from Shannon Brown, once again re-gained the lead and again shifted the momentum in their favor. The road-weary Suns all dug deep once more to finish out the game with energy and hustle on both ends of the court, keeping the Bobcats just out of reach from ever being able to capture the lead. The Suns held onto victory as they ended the game 117-110.
Suns vs. Cavaliers
Last night, the Suns came out sloppy, out of sync, and cold from everywhere on the floor to start the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at home. The Cavs on the other hand came out on fire with a ferocity of a team that could smell blood, hitting their first 8-9 shots from the field and jumping out to an early 18-2 lead after less than five minutes into the game.
Head coach Alvin Gentry called multiple time-outs in an attempt to make adjustments and rally his team, but the Suns continued their downward spiral, falling behind by as many as 26 points early in the second quarter.
The team had every excuse to simply give up, hand their heads, and mentally check out at that point. But much to the credit of Gentry who would not allow them to waive the white flag, the Suns continued to be aggressive and play with intensity with Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair leading the charge.
The Suns were able to claw their way back into the game throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters to reduce the deficit to only seven at the start of the fourth quarter. Once again, this is when the Suns really seemed to turn it on. Mr 4th quarter himself, Shannon Brown, again poured on the offense scoring 12 points, while Dragic, Telfair, Gortat, and Tucker all upped the ante on defense stifling the opposition, while also contributing with baskets of their own.
As unlikely as it once seemed, the Suns were able to take the lead and outscore the Cavs 31-22 in the final quarter of the game to squeak out a well deserved comeback victory at home 107-105.
A Reoccurring Theme
Whether the Suns jump out to an early lead only to lose it, or fall behind early and then fight their way back, the commonality here is that this team doesn't give up.
Now of course, this isn't an endorsement of the substandard play that leads to either one of these scenarios occurring in the first place, but this is a reality of the game. Basketball is a game of runs, and you need perseverance in order to withstand them.
After last night's game, some of the key players offered their take on what's quickly becoming the new identity of the Phoenix Suns.
"Our team is never, ever, ever going to give up," "Guys never gave up, kept fighting every possession until the last second ran off the clock."
"I almost threw up." "When you try to play as hard as possible, then you get that extra energy from somewhere. I just try to push myself over the limits and play as hard as possible."
"Wins like this are definitely going to build chemistry with the team." "If we're going to keep playing like that, if we're going to have guys stepping in like that off the bench we're going to be fine"
"I thought, ‘You know what? We’re going to win this game...You could feel it." "We had a feeling the whole game that we were going to come back. "We knew once we locked down and got focused...that we would come back and win, and we did..."
Of course this doesn't mean that the Suns will always find a way to win these games...After all, they are 3-3, not 6-0. But what it does say is that you can expect this team to continue fighting no matter what, and this is a great sign for a new group of players that is forming a brand new identity as a team together.
Who knows how many games this Suns team can win this season...this year will likely be a roller-coaster ride with many unforeseen twists and turns up ahead. But no matter what, if the Suns keep playing the same way they have been thus far, we can at least expect them to give us our money's worth along the way.