After the Goran Dragic-fueled beatdown that Phoenix handed out last night, it looks like San Antonio will soon be on vacation for the summer. And with this, we once again have an uber-hyped Western Conference Playoffs that, while by no means lacking luster, will not quite live up to the “this might be the best Playoffs ever” billing that it had way back when we were all salivating over four First Round match-ups featuring eight 50-win teams.
This is at least the third consecutive year that this has happened out West. And it seems marginally ironic that, this year, the key reason is that the Suns unexpectedly beat the snot out of the Spurs whereas, in 2008, one of the key reasons was because the Spurs dismantled the Suns, starting with a Tim Duncan three-pointer that sent Game 1 into double OT. After that shot, the series was all Spurs.
This year? There was never even any that much intrigue. The games have all been competitive by and large, sure, but the Suns have been in control throughout. There has been no question about that.
When we look back at the 2008 series, Duncan’s three was an oddity that helped prove the truth: those Spurs were much better than those Suns. And when, a few years from now, we look back on the 2010 series, Goran Dragic’s 10/13 shooting, 26-point night will stand out as an oddity that helped prove our new truth: these Suns are much better than these Spurs.
It’s a weird thing to type — let alone think — given how thoroughly San Antonio dominated Phoenix for the entire last decade. And it’s also strange for me personally because I really wanted both these teams to win this series.
On the one hand, I was starting to enjoy the “one last run” thing for the Spurs and would have loved to see Timmy — the grizzled, battle-tested titan who often seems like he may be the Last of the Mohicans when it comes to a certain type of big man — get a crack at knocking off the upstart, more-talented, more-flappable Lakers squad that we all now believe to be the class of the Western Conference. Plus, more Manu. That’s always a “yes, please” proposition.
On the other hand, the Suns getting back to the Western Conference Finals — and perhaps even continuing on to greater heights — after getting back to running represents a culmination of sorts for the Seven Seconds or Less era and — perhaps more philosophically meaningful — the Seven Seconds or Less conceptual view of basketball. These aren’t the Mike D’Antoni Suns exactly anymore, but the Nash/Amar’e core is still intact and the script is similar. Very similar. Snatch/Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels similar.
And this is a great thing for those of us who loathe the dismissiveness continually raining down from Wisdom Mountain of Certitude by the hallowed “defense wins championships” crew who will never even consider that uptempo basketball can be good basketball.
Offensively focused basketball is beautiful basketball and it can be winning basketball.
You of course need to get stops and you of course need to do many, many other things well (rebound, execute, not have Patrick Ewing as your center), but an offensively focused team, with good enough players, could someday win a championship. It’s just a fact. And the fact that so many people refuse to acknowledge it and dismiss all the positive contributions that the Seven Seconds or Less Suns brought to this League (which, oh by the way, seems much more receptive to incorporating uptempo, early-shot clock concepts into its repertoire for success) is a very negative thing. Maintaining an allegiance to certainty when new information that should make you at least question that certainty surfaces is not a positive trait. Not for a basketball fan thinking about basketball. Or for any person thinking about anything.
Yet, so many people’s only thoughts about offensively focused basketball are this: “The Suns lost so it can’t work.” While factually true, that line of thinking is an oversimplification of a much more nuanced conversation.
The series that Phoenix lost throughout this decade were failings of those particular Suns teams, not the failings of a philosophical view about the sport that should now be dismissed and never tried again. Nothing one particular team does can disprove that a particular way of playing can work.
But — and this is the beautiful part — one particular team winning while playing that way does prove it can work.
In the Western Conference Finals, the Suns will try.