It’s been a long long time since we’ve heard the Phoenix Suns Arena rocking as loud as it has in these playoffs, but boy oh boy is it music to my ears.
During the Suns big win over the Nuggets in game one of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the crowd went absolutely nuts again and again and again. The place was pure pandemonium, so loud you could hear it through the television feed like a rock concert. And I’m not talking about the halftime band (though that was fun too). I’m not talking about the T-shirt giveaway. I’m talking organic, jump around and go nuts on a Suns basketball play.
“This crowd is crazy,” Chris Paul said with big-eye emphasis after the game. “It’s crazy to have the fans in there, the energy. There’s nothing like it, and I told the guys, ‘This is why we fought so hard during the regular season to get home court advantage.’ And I think we truly have that with our fanbase here.”
Please, turn your sound on and just listen to this crowd reaction on a Torrey Craig dunk in the middle of that 42-14 run the Suns made to take the game over.
Soak it in. Let it run on loop. If that doesn’t warm your heart just a little bit more this morning, I don’t know what will.
“The fans are the ones helping us play like this,” center Deandre Ayton said afterward. “Today was the loudest game I’ve ever played in.”
Those of us lucky enough to be right there at the arena can attest that the true, live experience was even nuttier than the TV gave credit for. The 16,000+ fans in the arena were ultra-engaged — not in their phones, or in the gimmicks, but right there on what was happening on the court. Rising collectively with a three-ball or a fast break, screaming wildly at a block or a steal.
“Yeah, the crowd is amazing man,” Mikal Bridges said later. “It gets us going no matter what. Even if we’re down, make one shot, they get loud and put the pressure on them. They’re great.”
I remember the bottom of the barrel, back in the dark days of only a few years ago, when some players would grumble to themselves (off the record, but while reporters were in the room) about how the Phoenix fans were the worst in the NBA. I remember reacting defiantly at the time (to myself) that these are in fact some of the very best in the NBA but that a crowd reacts to what they feel on the court. If you’re huffy on the court, the crowd will be huffy too. If you’re low energy on the court, the crowd will be low energy too.
I remember Marcus Morris — or was it Keef? No, no, it was Marcus — complained in a post-game interview after the Suns lost to the Spurs after scoring only 24 points in the whole first half and 72 for the whole game that the fans were the problem that night. He complained ON AIR that they needed the fans to give them energy rather than the other way around.
But, you see, Marcus, it might end with the fans lifting you up but it STARTS with you. It starts with YOUR energy on the court, your effort on every single play, your ability to make surprising plays.
The fans feed on your energy and give it back to you 16,000-fold. If you come out flat, they will too. If you coast, they will too.
But if you bust your ass, dive for loose balls, give it your all on every. single. play, well then so will the fans.
And that’s what we’re seeing here in Phoenix these days. Word is the Lakers players complained (felt sorry for themselves) that the Suns had such a great home court advantage in the first round because of their fans. And now the Nuggets know it too.
I don’t mean to indict all former Suns here or all of the bad teams. Some of those bad teams were built to lose and they knew, which sapped their energy before it even started. The Morrii, to me, are different because they were here when the team was supposed to win.
But lots of players came through here expected to lose, and that ruined a year or so of their lives. Devin Booker was here for five of those tough years and wasn’t the energy problem. Neither were Jamal Crawford or Richaun Holmes, who tweeted last night how much they’re enjoying this team.
In fact, most of the players here during the bad days were not at all the problem. The problem was the culture — they were told it’s okay to lose, and lose they did. You can’t have great energy when your own organization lets you know without actually saying it out loud that you’re supposed to score less than the other team.
But that’s all changed now. Now the team is built to win, expected to win, and they’re soaking it all up and building on that energy. The fans around town see that, feel that, and are responding in kind.
In between games, the players are seeing the support all around the city, when they can get out, and especially on social media. They are people just like us, on their phones all day, checking Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and whatever else.
“The fans over social media, they’re fantastic,” Cam Payne said recently. “They do a helluva job showing us love. And they deserve every bit of [the Suns being good again] from what I hear. Ten years not being in the playoffs, this is a big deal. This is a big deal for the city. The fans are doing a great job.”
The biggest supporter of the Phoenix area fans for the past few years has been one of the youngest players on the team.
Devin Booker wasn’t here in the glory days. He was only a 13 year old kid, just about to enter high school in Michigan, the last time the Suns were in the playoffs.
Book was only four years old the last time the Suns dug themselves out of the muck, from a 29-win campaign in 2003-04 to 62 wins the next year with the addition of Steve Nash to run the show for a group of younguns.
But Book gets it. He gets it.
“I’ve been here the last six years, so I know how bad this organization, these fans have wanted this moment,” Booker said before the Nuggets series began. “Especially that first round matchup versus the Lakers.”
Every single time someone asks Booker about his loyalty to the city of Phoenix, he responds with how much the city deserves that loyalty, how much they’ve been through in the losing years and how they deserve this winning right now.
He knows the rivalries. He knows how much of a basketball town this really is. He knows we want a winner, and he wants to be the one to deliver that winner. So you can imagine how satisfying it is for Booker to bring it home.
Book and the Suns love this community, and it’s great to see how much the community loves the team.
Head coach Monty Williams has said all along that ‘everything you want is on the other side of hard’.
Well, everything we wanted is right here right now. Every moment is worth soaking in. Doesn’t matter if you’re a young fan just now experiencing the playoffs for the first time, or if you’re like my dad an 80-year old fan who’s jilted heart is being melted anew game by game in these playoffs.
Everything we want is right here. In the new Madhouse — just on Jefferson rather than McDowell.