Twelve years ago I was a lonely Suns fan living in Colorado, where I was a graduate student and not well-acquainted with most of my peers. This doesn’t matter terribly except to say that social media was my primary means of discussing the NBA, and my feed (being from Southern California myself) was full of a lovely sort of fan: Lakers diehards.
The Phoenix Suns were down 0-2 in the Western Conference Finals…and things looked grim. And then the Suns won game three. And then they won game four.
I was pumped. The Suns had used a zone defense to disrupt the Lakers’ triangle offense and recapture momentum in the series.
But the Laker fans on my socials weren’t discussing that. They were fixated on one thing: the officials. In two games the Suns had won by a combined 18 points, Phoenix had attempted 74 free throws to Los Angeles’ 33. The fix was in. The NBA had decided this was Steve Nash’s year, and the league wouldn’t let the Suns lose.
Ridiculous, said I. If the Lakers deserve to win the championship they should make some shots and stop complaining about free throws. And much to my heartbreak, they did.
Now it’s time for the Suns to do the same. It’s tempting to fixate on the free throw disparity in game four, because a 15-42 disparity in a game that was equally physical just feels wrong.
But you know what else feels wrong? Neither Mikal Bridges nor Chris Paul hitting a three. Deandre Ayton attempting five field goals in the whole second half after having 14 points on 7/9 shooting in the first half. Cam Payne playing much more like the exile from the NBA he was pre-bubble than the guy who thrilled us a postseason ago.
The Suns ranked near the bottom of the league in free throw attempts this season, and the New Orleans Pelicans ranked near the top. They probably will outscore our team at the line. Screw it. Deal with it.
I won’t blow smoke and pretend the officiating in game four was good. I won’t say the NBA’s officiating is ever all that stellar. The league sadly can’t decide what kind of game it wants to present, and that leaves different officials all trying to walk their own lines between the literal rulebook interpretation and one that produces an enjoyable game. And some nights it just sucks.
But just like that awful Lakers squad that broke my heart, these Suns have to just look at their own failings and be better. Make some shots. Grab some rebounds. Close out on shooters. Devin Booker or no Devin Booker, Suns basketball has to beat the 8 seed.
No excuses. Just win.