A few months ago, sometime during the NBA’s longest summer, the 10th anniversary of the Suns’ last playoff appearance passed.
At that point, we weren’t sure whether the Suns would be invited to the Bubble, or what the chances were that they’d have a chance to claw back into the postseason picture. It was nothing more than a depressing reminder of this franchise’s fall from grace after the Seven Seconds or Less era. Hardly anyone suspected that we’d be talking about that streak mere months later.
When I was about 11, I was lucky enough to attend both of the Arizona Cardinals’ home NFC playoff games in their run to the 2008 Super Bowl. Prior to the start of the NFC Championship Game against Philadelphia that winter, the team played a video package on the end zone jumbotron that flashed a bunch of negative headlines about the woe of the franchise over the years. “The Cardinals will never be worth anything” — that type of stuff. Near the end of the video, a news clipping stating that hell would freeze over by the time the Cardinals made the Super Bowl flashed up on the screen.
Huge text quickly replaced the headline, with music blaring and the crowd now screaming: “HELL JUST FROZE OVER.”
Massively hyperbolic stuff like that sometimes feels like the only way our silly little brains can comprehend the seemingly impossible or faraway. It’s like learning about space. Sometimes we just have to zoom out a little and put it in bigger terms to even fathom what’s going on.
That was the same sensation I felt watching Monty Williams — ever the leader — keep expectations tempered and emotions in check after the Suns’ seventh straight win on Tuesday. That the Suns are one win (and some luck) away from a return the playoffs was genuinely difficult to process.
Those who predicted an 8-0 record — or is it Ayton-0 record? — in the Bubble were simply being positive, and more power to them for their silly optimism, I thought. Now, it’s a reality. The Suns are on the cusp of a return to the playoffs.
Hell didn’t quite freeze over, but 2020 has been something close to that. Of course this would be the year Phoenix returns to the NBA postseason — with another matchup against the Lakers looming. Poetry writes itself, sometimes, though this is some kind of twisted pentameter.
Nobody expected this.
“We can finally look at it. It’s our next step,” Williams said of the playoffs. “We know that we’re not totally in control of our fate, but we put ourselves in a good position. Nobody would have guessed the Phoenix Suns would be in this position before all of this started.”
The man who put them in that position, more than any individual on the roster, is Devin Booker, the young superstar whose development is as unexpected as everything that he’s manifested in Orlando. A 13th overall pick becoming the best player on a bona fide playoff team is just unlikely, plain and simple.
A 13th pick in this franchise? It’s gotta be close to one in a million. Booker’s had to suffer all the nonsense that’s come with this team since he was drafted — not having a point guard, having a new head coach every year, multiple failed draft picks, a waning fan base. With one win (and some luck), it’s all going to be forgiven.
Draft a winner, find even a few of the right pieces, and eventually, the bounces are bound to fall your way. I’m not going to pretend I saw it coming this soon, but what was undeniable from the jump is how the Suns had finally found a head coach, point guard and center to help Booker bring the Suns to the promised land.
A few months and a pandemic later, they’re here.
“These are the games I’ve been waiting to be in a play in,” Booker said postgame on Tuesday. “We can feel the energy, we can feel the hype of the game.”
While Williams and Booker have done their best to keep things honest and tempered, Booker also made it clear falling short on Thursday won’t be a failure, either. You can imagine that whole locker room — in all those rooms at the Yacht Club — want this badly, having come so close. But part of the never too high, never too low mantra is that just like a 7-0 streak can’t give you a big head, losing can’t kill you, either.
The Suns knew when they entered the Bubble that the playoffs were a longshot — a less than 1 percent lottery ticket. New Orleans and Sacramento have fallen, while Portland sputtered here and there. The Suns have been perfect. It’s the only way they had a chance.
Whether that ends with an 8-0 record that still leaves Phoenix on the outside looking in or the Mavericks take them down in the end, this is the breakout everyone has been waiting for.
A decade later, after endless wandering and 82 painful nights a year, there’s a chance. But more than that, there’s hope.
To make the playoffs the Suns have to:
- Beat the Mavericks on Thursday, with tipoff at 1:00pm on TNT
- one of the other two teams must lose: Grizzlies (who play the Bucks, probably short a lot of starters for rest) or Trail Blazers (who play the pesky 5-2 Nets, who already said they would play their starters).
- Grizzlies play at the same time as the Suns, while Blazers play later that night at 6:00pm on TNT.