We all have those moments in life that cause us no trouble in remembering exactly where we were when they took place.
Events like these always carry an undeniably special significance to our lives, and incite some feeling of indescribable power within us upon occurrence.
Personally, I have a ton of these that I can immediately think of — triumphal celebrations, shocking revelations, and indubitably momentous occasions that burned such deep imprints into my memory banks, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be forgotten.
Like many people, several of these instances are connected to the game that’s played between painted lines on hardwood, and a specific select few have been directly architected by my favorite b-ball franchise — the Phoenix Suns.
And quite frankly, I can recall some of these moments of jubilation — from Amare Stoudemire man jams, to Steve Nash deke and dumps — so vividly because they’ve been extremely rare in nature. Those who’ve rallied behind the team in the Valley know so well that the Suns have existed in relative darkness for quite some time now, and although individual athletes have put together impressive outputs over the years, the collective unit has been subpar at best for a decade-plus.
That is of course, up until now. The unit’s eruption in the bubble, followed by the free agent signings of Chris Paul and a host of savvy role-playing vets, has unearthed an unseen level of on-court excellence that has fans checking their vitals in confirmation that it’s not all too good to be true.
Well fear not — the phrases “good”, and “Suns basketball” can accurately be used in the same sentence, and Devin Booker & co. have gifted the loyal fanbase with a present they’d worried would not be disseminated at all in the coming years.
And boy have they gotten used to waiting. Children have grown to adulthood, black and brown hairs have transitioned to gray, and some supporters have completely jumped ship to other organizations during the team’s postseason hiatus. But for those who have remained steadfast, the fruits of their endurance are finally ripening.
The last time the Suns were in the playoffs, the iPhone 3GS was just making headway as the latest and greatest model of smartphone, Barack Obama was the country’s President, and Instagram hadn’t even been invented yet.
I myself was a fledgling grade-school student who was paying far more attention to the girl next door than anything bills or job related. Nonetheless though, I can recall the season like it carries the recency of last night’s game — all of its ups, downs, twists, turns, crevices and curves.
The 2009-10 campaign was one heck of a ride if I do say so myself, and I have no problem strapping up my safety belt and venturing through its long-winding road time and time again.
So let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Care to join me?
Just about everything that could’ve work in the Suns’ favor from an offensive standpoint did just that.
Alvin Gentry took over for his first full season as Suns head coach after helping the team finish the previous season with a 46-36 record, plus the #1 points output per contest after taking over for the failed Terry Porter mid-season. Despite its .561 win percentage though, the team just missed the playoff cut in what was an absolutely loaded Western Conference roundtable.
The ‘08 group still salvaged remnants of Mike D’Antoni’s furiously fast seven-seconds or less offense, and the tandem of Steve Nash & Amare Stoudemire kept them playing efficient basketball despite the recent departure 4x All-Star Shawn Marion.
The next year was a successive restoration process following another massive exit to begin play: Shaquille O’Neal’s — whose mammoth in-paint presence was unlike any other player’s in league history — despite his increasing wear and tear with age.
Still though, Phoenix remained resolute and hungry, and its new coach was eager to prove that he deserved regency within the association.
Offensive guru Steve Kerr was a magician in the GM’s chair, and began work on specifically constructing a troupe that would put up loads of numbers while staying steadfast on defense.
And as he would do so often over the course of his totaling basketball career — Kerr found success in this venture. The team added Jason Richardson for 3-point presence to add to the prowess that deep-range spray-artists like Channing Frye and Jared Dudley brought to the table, and the group proved treacherous — finishing the year as the only squad to surpass 40% from three.
They began with a marvelously-crafted blazing start — winning eight of their first 10 contests by an average margin of just over 10.
Leandro Barbosa averaged 20+ through the first two contests, while Grant Hill showed that his deft scoring touch remained in tact with consecutive 20-balls in games one and two.
Meanwhile, Jared Dudley continuously lit it up from beyond the three-point arc, putting together a consistent shot-making exhibition that vaulted him to the fourth-ranked percentage (.458) by the season’s close.
The victorious stretch was a steady one for Phoenix, who never dropped more than two consecutive affairs until mid-January, holding on to a 24-16 record through the 15th of the month.
Then they dropped four straight — losing to Indiana, Atlanta, Charlotte and Memphis. But they kept the composure and resilience of a capable playoff group through the drought, following the disastrous stretch with five straight victories through the beginning of February; highlighted by a hard-fought OT win in which Stoudemire went off for 36 points on a 12-12 clip from the charity stripe.
Another five-game hot spurt followed later in the month that included a Robin Lopez 30-ball, and another in which four starters posted plus/minuses upwards of 20.
The big one followed shortly thereafter: a dominant nightly display of chemistry and grit that resulted in 10 straight W’s — including a 152-114 beat-down of Minnesota that saw Richardson, Stoudemire and Lou Amundson (remember him??) post 20-pieces nuggets.
From there, the unit’s fire burned through playoff time. They failed to drop more than two straight games for the second 30+ game stretch to end regular season play, showing that losing was not apart of their long-term DNA.
They breezed past Portland in the first round of playoff competition, busting the Blazers 119-90 in Game Two and 108-89 in Game Three, and relinquishing the next before riding a six-game win streak through a sweep of the Spurs in the next round.
And of course, the road through championship glory always travels through L.A., where the squad that PHX could just never seem to beat met them with a rude awakening — stopping their run short after a six-game bloodbath. Kobe Bryant & co. would go on to win that year’s Larry O’Brien trophy.
The 09-10 group finished with a 110.2 points per game, tops in the league, and had the fourth-best pace of play (95.3). Its +5.1 net rating was good for fifth in the association as well. It also had the best effective field goal % (.546).
Amare Stoudemire led with 23.1 points and 8.9 boards per game. Steve Nash averaged a double-double with 16.5 points and 11 assists. Jason Richardson provided 15.7 ppg, while Grant Hill had 11.3, and Channing Frye added 11.2.
It would be the last time the Suns would play basketball past mid-May — until now.
Stoudemire departed from Arizona for larger pastures in New York during the offseason, and Nash would exit shortly thereafter in 2012. What followed was a catastrophic montage of missed draft-projections, lowly one-man bands, and thousands of disgruntled fans through the remainder of the decade.
But the roaring 20’s are now upon us, and while I’ll never forget the hope and gratitude I received from the 2009-10 group, the troupe Phoenix deploys 11 years later has a chance to do something that squad never could.
Suns Nation is more than ready to see it happen.