How the heck did we get here?
The Suns, who led the series two games to none, have lost three straight contests for the first time since late January. Their opponent, the Milwaukee Bucks, has been hotter than fish grease, making 62 of its last 116 shots dating back to Game 4 on Wednesday.
It has been a problem that Phoenix has been unable to solve, and it has pushed its season to the brink, just steps away from losing out a championship.
“If you sulk about it, [in] the blink of an eye the season is going to be over,” Suns starting forward Mikal Bridges said.
Arizona fans, you’ve been here before, remember? The Arizona Diamondbacks trailed the New York Yankees three games to two in the 2001 World Series, heading home for the final two games. And didn’t it feel like they were dead in the water at that time?
Here’s what some of you had to say about comparing this series to that.
Actually similar. If I remember right they were heartbreaking losses late in the game.— Clint Edwards (@ClintEdwards1) July 18, 2021
It’s highly unlikely. Bucks are simply the better team and it’s not even all that close. They will close it out with ease on Tuesday night.— Paul (@AZPaulC) July 18, 2021
I can work with that magic!!— Punserator (@punserator) July 18, 2021
Not confident even if it goes 7— michael newlon (@manewlon) July 18, 2021
Obviously, the circumstances are different. Let’s make that clear right now.
The Diamondbacks, ranked the No. 2 seed in the National League, had home field advantage in the World Series, like the Suns do in the Finals. But Phoenix does not have the benefit (or curse, depending on how you view it) of hosting the last two games, a product of the MLB’s 2-3-2 championship format that the NBA ceased after the 2012-13 season.
Phoenix also lost its homecourt advantage with its 123-119 loss to the Bucks in Game 5 on Saturday night.
Like the Suns, the Diamondbacks began the 2001 series with two wins at home. But then things got wacky.
Here’s a look at how that series compares to this year’s NBA Finals.
Game 3: A Tough Loss
In their first game of the series at Yankee Stadium, the Diamondbacks lost, 2-1, allowing the Yankees to crawl back into the series.
Arizona trailed 1-0 after the second inning and tied the game in the top of the fourth with a sacrifice fly from former third baseman Matt Williams. New York responded in the sixth inning, as third baseman Scott Brosius regave it the lead with an RBI single.
The Yankees held on to win, dropping the Diamondbacks’ lead in the series to two games to one. It’s difficult to compare apples to oranges, but the Suns similarly fought back in their series before they were overpowered late.
Trailing 60-45 at halftime in Game 4, Phoenix went on a 25-14 run to start the second half, cutting its deficit to four. But it never got any closer, as the Bucks responded with a 24-6 run to close that quarter and seal the game.
Milwaukee was led in that effort by superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 41 points on 14-of-23 shooting with 13 rebounds and six assists. It also got 21 points out of starting point guard Jrue Holiday with nine assists and five rebounds.
As noted, Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker had his worst shooting game of the season with 10 points on just a 3-of-14 (21.4 percent) clip from the field. It mirrored left fielder Luis Gonzalez’s performance, recording just one hit in four at-bats.
Collectively, Arizona had three hits in 28 at-bats in Game 3 after combining for a 15-of-62 total in Games 1 and 2. It was not the best performance for either Arizona team, something that was fully expected to change in Game 4.
Game 4: A Missed Opportunity
Sorry to bring back bad memories, Arizona fans. Here’s where the parallels start to be drawn.
Leading three to one in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Diamondbacks had a chance to take a crucial 3-1 lead with closer Byung-Hyun Kim in for the save. But that’s where things got dicey.
It’s easy to forget that Kim, the first Korean-born player to ever play in the World Series, entered in the eighth inning and struck out the side. It’s much easier to recall that Kim lost the game for the Diamondbacks, retiring two Yankees on either side of a single from right fielder Paul O’Neill before giving up a crushing two-run home run from first baseman Tino Martinez to tie the game at three.
Arizona recorded three straight groundouts to start the 10th inning before New York won it in the bottom half, as legendary shortstop Derek Jeter hit a home run to walk it off for the Yankees, four to three.
That’s about as devastating a loss you can get, right? Again, it’s hard to equate, but the Suns’ 109-103 loss to the Bucks in Game 4 was pretty hard to swallow, too.
Phoenix led for most of the game and had an 85-76 lead with 11:42 remaining in the fourth quarter, appearing well on its way to seize control of the series. That’s when the Bucks responded, outscoring the Suns 33-21 in that quarter to steal a win and tie the Finals at two games apiece.
We’ll all remember Booker’s 42-point effort as critical to Phoenix’s effort in that game. It’s a shame that his performance and that of the Diamondbacks went down the drain late.
Game 5: Deja Vu
To be fair, the circumstances are different here. The Diamondbacks lost this game on the road while the Suns lost it at home. But see how this is getting similar?
Once again, Arizona carried a lead into the ninth inning, this time leading 2-0 after a masterful effort from starting pitcher Miguel Batista, who went 7 ⅔ innings, struck out six batters and gave up just five hits.
Kim returned in the ninth inning, once again pushing the Yankees to their final out before facing Brosius. And guess what? History repeated itself.
Brosius’ two-run home run tied the game at two, sending the game to extra innings. This time, the Diamondbacks got through two innings before Yankees second baseman Alfonso Soriano hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 12th, handing Arizona its third straight loss.
Obviously, this was very frustrating from Kim’s perspective but also with what happened after it. The Diamondbacks started the top of the 11th with back-to-back singles from pinch-hitter Danny Bautista and designated hitter Erubiel Durazo and a sacrifice bunt from Williams, moving runners to second and third with nobody out.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera then walked center fielder Steve Finley, who had three of the Diamondbacks’ eight hits that game, including a home run in the fifth inning, to load the bases. Right fielder Reggie Sanders then lined out to Soriano, and first baseman Mark Grace grounded out thereafter.
Trailing three games to two against a team that won four of the previous five World Series, I have to imagine the outlook for the Diamondbacks was pretty bleak at that point. Here’s what some of you had to say about recalling that moment.
Those 3 loses also all in dramatic fashion for the dbacks. Feeling is very similar.— meissman (@meissman11) July 18, 2021
Hopefully bro, I've been a fan of all Valley teams since 92 and I've only seen the DBacks win a championship long time ago.— Teacher Nach (@carloxruix) July 18, 2021
Completely different. The series is over. The Bucks want it more and with CP0 MIA, it's not going to happen. After watching the Suns play for 30+ years...nope. I hope I'll be forced to eat my words— Lynnae Williams (@wlynnae) July 18, 2021
Basketball is different. Bucks have the best player on the floor— Leighton Smith (@leightonlavell) July 18, 2021
Similarly, there’s a pretty dark cloud casting over the Suns following their Game 5 loss on Saturday night. Phoenix went up big (it led 37-21 after the first quarter), went down (It trailed by 14 in the fourth quarter) and could not complete a late rally to win.
The Suns’ latest loss was one of the most wild changes of events I’ve ever seen while following sports. And now, they are one defeat away from missing out on a championship.
Game 6: What?!
OK, I’m not saying this is going to happen. But it has to be the best-case scenario if you’re a Suns fan.
Returning home to the then-named Bank One Ballpark in Phoenix, the Diamondbacks absolutely crushed the Yankees, 15-2. Arizona had 22 hits, led 15-0 after the fourth inning and stomped New York like it was a measly fly on concrete.
The Diamondbacks got five doubles that game — from shortstop Tony Womack, Sanders, Williams, Gonzalez and catcher Damian Miller — and nine different players had an RBI, led by Bautista with five on three hits.
It didn’t hurt that starting pitcher and ace Randy Johnson threw a solid game, pitching seven innings, striking out seven batters and giving up only six hits.
Now, I understand that this result would be very unlikely for the Suns to replicate. For one, the game is in Milwaukee, and the Bucks’ fans are going to go berserk with their team having a chance to capture their first championship since 1971.
But, wouldn’t this be a perfect chance for Phoenix to stun Milwaukee? With their backs against the wall, the Suns have a chance to put the Bucks on their heels if they can steal a win on the road and force a Game 7.
This is something that Phoenix coach Monty Williams spoke about after Game 5. It only takes one win to come home and play for a championship.
“We got to win one game to put them back on the plane,” Williams said. “That’s it. And you have to have that determination that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to put them back on the plane.”
The Suns have not lost four games in a row all season and have an opportunity to stay alive on Tuesday. That’s how they have to view it if they’re going to save their season.
Game 7: The Coronation
Remember this, Arizona fans? I’m sure you do.
In what was arguably one of the most memorable baseball games of all time, the Diamondbacks walked off their first and only championship in franchise history with a single from Gonzalez, which drooped over the outstretched arms of Jeter and drove in pinch hitter Jay Bell for the winning run.
Here’s the moment, in case you haven’t seen it in a while.
Wouldn’t it be cool for the Suns to replicate something like this? Especially given the team’s last decade, perhaps the only stain on starting point guard Chris Paul’s resume (he has not won a championship) and the tragedy that Williams went through with his family?
Don’t give up hope yet, Suns fans. There’s one game left with the possibility of two. Remember what could come out on the other side of this.