Like many Phoenix fans, I was certain up to the very second that the final horn blew in Milwaukee that the Suns were going to win the first NBA championship in franchise history. Instead, we fans suffered through three straight coulda/shoulda games in which the Suns were down two in the last minute, down one with 20 seconds left, and tied going into the fourth quarter, respectively. They lost all three.
The only way to follow sports and not go insane is to chant (and try to believe) the mantra that what could have happened, DID happen. Fans all over Arizona are going to look back at the two-game lead that the Suns had in the series and lament that they couldn’t close the deal. But were the Suns even supposed to be in the Finals?
True, they had the second-best record in the entire NBA in the regular season (and had the best road record in the league). But they had to face the powerful defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. The injury-plagued Lakers were a seven seed, but were still favored over the Suns. But then Anthony Davis got hurt and the Suns won the series in six. Their next opponent, Denver, was also missing their second-best player (Jamal Murray) and the Suns won in five. In the Western Conference Finals, the L.A. Clippers were missing their BEST player (and one of the very best in the NBA), Kawhi Leonard, and it still took the Suns six games to win the series.
What could have happened, did happen.
What was really unsettling for me was that, had it been any other team from the Western Conference (even sentimental favorites like the Denver Nuggets or the Utah Jazz), I would have been rooting for the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo—known as the Greek Freak, mostly because of his skills but also because his name is pronounced just as it is spelled—is just so easy to root for. He’s talented and intense and humble. But mostly, in this unfortunate era where star players seek to cluster together in “super teams,” Giannis shocked the basketball world last year.
His initial contract with Milwaukee was up and he was a free agent. Some thought he would go to the glitz of New York. Others thought he would head to the other coast and join Steph Curry with the Golden State Warriors. But he shocked the basketball world by resigning with the Bucks.
Staying in Milwaukee was a head-scratcher to many. The Bucks had flamed out early in the 2020 playoffs that were delayed and then contested in the “bubble” in Orlando. This season, the East got tougher with improvements in Philadelphia, Atlanta, and New York, and the forming of a super team in Brooklyn. But the Bucks won a classic Game 7 in Brooklyn and then brushed past Atlanta to reach the finals.
And Giannis himself brushed aside a hyperextended knee to add a Finals MVP to the two league MVP awards already in his trophy case. He made the play of the series, blocked (former UA Wildcat) DeAndre Ayton’s dunk attempt in the final minute of Game 5 and then added a stunning 50-point performance in the close-out Game 6.
There is a staple of street lingo where basketball players who score at least 20 points in a game will say that they “dropped a 20-piece” (as in McNuggets). After the game, Giannis—with the championship trophy in his front seat—drove through Chick-fil-A and order a 50-piece. (“Not 49, not 51.”) He even asked permission of the young lady taking his order to record the transaction on his Instagram.
He is officially the coolest person on the face of the Earth.
All of the high-priced pundits (the same ones who gave the Suns less than a 50% chance to even make the playoffs this year) are absolutely certain that the Suns blew their only chance in the foreseeable future to win an NBA title. The prevailing “wisdom” is that, if everyone is healthy, the Suns will probably go into next season ranked below the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets and maybe even the Jazz in the Western Conference.
The stars had lined up for Phoenix this season, but they didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Some think that they won’t get another chance. I’m more optimistic. I believe that the Suns players, knowing how gut-wrenchingly close they came to being world champions, will all redouble their efforts for next season. They play solid, basic basketball, they do it really well, and now they have all the motivation in the world.
And I’m not alone. The Freak himself said, “I feel like there’s a good chance we might run it back next year.” From his lips to the Basketball Gods’ ears.