Six games into the new season, the Phoenix Suns sit at a mediocre 3-3. By most standards, this is neither that bad, nor that good; especially considering schedule thus far.
Just another average NBA team going through a transitional period, right?
Well, those who have actually watched the Suns play, rather than just looking at the stats and box scores, might have a different take on this Suns' team.
Sure, the Suns are still in the process of re-building after a make-over that saw their last remaining superstar, and long-time face of the franchise head off to La-La Land to
chase a ring be closer to his kids with the ultra-talented Lakers.
And yes, the Suns underwent a near total team transformation that saw only four returning players from the year prior.
But rather than seeing a group of players who are content with just going through the motions as a "re-building" team, this Suns roster is showing grit, mental toughness, and a never-say-quit attitude.
Let's take an early look at the Suns thus far in the season through the microcosm of the last two games they've played. Two very different, almost opposite paths taken to the same eventual destination...a Suns win.
On Wednesday night, they played against the young Charlotte Bobcats team on the last leg of the three-game road trip. The Suns jumped out to an early lead in the first and second quarter leading by as many as 16 points in the first half.
The Suns looked as if they were going to cruise to an easy victory in Charlotte, only to find themselves on the wrong end of a run at the start of the second half that left them up by only four points to end the third quarter.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Bobcats continued to mount an impressive comeback against the Suns and eventually tied the game with 10 minutes to go. It looked like the Suns had lost all their momentum and were destined to relinquish control of the game and limp back to Phoenix with their tails between their legs.
But then something changed. The Suns, behind a flurry of three's from Shannon Brown, once again re-gained the lead and again shifted the momentum in their favor. The road-weary Suns all dug deep once more to finish out the game with energy and hustle on both ends of the court, keeping the Bobcats just out of reach from ever being able to capture the lead. The Suns held onto victory as they ended the game 117-110.
Last night, the Suns came out sloppy, out of sync, and cold from everywhere on the floor to start the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at home. The Cavs on the other hand came out on fire with a ferocity of a team that could smell blood, hitting their first 8-9 shots from the field and jumping out to an early 18-2 lead after less than five minutes into the game.
Head coach Alvin Gentry called multiple time-outs in an attempt to make adjustments and rally his team, but the Suns continued their downward spiral, falling behind by as many as 26 points early in the second quarter.
The team had every excuse to simply give up, hand their heads, and mentally check out at that point. But much to the credit of Gentry who would not allow them to waive the white flag, the Suns continued to be aggressive and play with intensity with Goran Dragic, Shannon Brown, and Sebastian Telfair leading the charge.
The Suns were able to claw their way back into the game throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters to reduce the deficit to only seven at the start of the fourth quarter. Once again, this is when the Suns really seemed to turn it on. Mr 4th quarter himself, Shannon Brown, again poured on the offense scoring 12 points, while Dragic, Telfair, Gortat, and Tucker all upped the ante on defense stifling the opposition, while also contributing with baskets of their own.
As unlikely as it once seemed, the Suns were able to take the lead and outscore the Cavs 31-22 in the final quarter of the game to squeak out a well deserved comeback victory at home 107-105.
Whether the Suns jump out to an early lead only to lose it, or fall behind early and then fight their way back, the commonality here is that this team doesn't give up.
Now of course, this isn't an endorsement of the substandard play that leads to either one of these scenarios occurring in the first place, but this is a reality of the game. Basketball is a game of runs, and you need perseverance in order to withstand them.
After last night's game, some of the key players offered their take on what's quickly becoming the new identity of the Phoenix Suns.
"Our team is never, ever, ever going to give up," "Guys never gave up, kept fighting every possession until the last second ran off the clock."
"I almost threw up." "When you try to play as hard as possible, then you get that extra energy from somewhere. I just try to push myself over the limits and play as hard as possible."
"Wins like this are definitely going to build chemistry with the team." "If we're going to keep playing like that, if we're going to have guys stepping in like that off the bench we're going to be fine"
"I thought, ‘You know what? We’re going to win this game...You could feel it." "We had a feeling the whole game that we were going to come back. "We knew once we locked down and got focused...that we would come back and win, and we did..."
Of course this doesn't mean that the Suns will always find a way to win these games...After all, they are 3-3, not 6-0. But what it does say is that you can expect this team to continue fighting no matter what, and this is a great sign for a new group of players that is forming a brand new identity as a team together.
Who knows how many games this Suns team can win this season...this year will likely be a roller-coaster ride with many unforeseen twists and turns up ahead. But no matter what, if the Suns keep playing the same way they have been thus far, we can at least expect them to give us our money's worth along the way.
The Phoenix Suns came out flat, cold, and disjointed to start the game, while the Cleveland Cavaliers came out hot and energetic. As one would imagine, this was a recipe for disaster as the Cavs quickly reeled off a 22-4 lead after only six minutes into the first quarter, eventually falling behind by as many as 26 points.
Alvin Gentry called multiple time outs before finally going to his bench early to see if they would respond better than the starters. And while the Suns were able to at least stop the bleeding, the Cavs still got off to a 37-16 lead to end the first quarter.
Things got better for the Suns in the second quarter, mostly behind the aggressive play of Goran Dragic, Sebastian Telfair, and Shannon Brown; as well as some improved defensive rotations by the Suns that helped to slow down the smoking hot Cavs. The Suns actually outscored the Cavs in the second quarter and were able to shrink the lead down to 13 to make it 62-49 at the half.
The Suns started the 3rd quarter on a run and cut the lead down to as little as five at one point thanks to the hustle of Goran Dragic who already had 21 points midway through the quarter, but the Cavs answered back as the Suns started going cold from the field once again, and Cleveland was able to re-extend their lead to seven at the end of the third quarter up 83-76.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Shannon Brown and PJ Tucker once again showed that while they may not be starters, they are both very good closers. Sebastian Telfair and PJ Tucker played very good defense disrupting the Cavaliers and forcing them into bad shots and decisions, while Brown hustled in for a lay-up, hit a jumper, and then another quick layup to eventually give the Suns their first lead of the night.
Then Dion Waiters happened.
Waiters hit two three-point shots and another nice contested jumper down the stretch to regain the lead for the Cavaliers back up by four.
But just when it looked like the Suns had flamed out, they fought back with a total team effort from the closing five of Dragic, Brown, Beasley, Tucker, and Gortat and were able to out last the Cavaliers showing hustle and energy on both ends of the court to close out the game 107-105.
The Suns were led by Goran Dragic's 26 points and 4 assists, and Marcin Gor-SWAT's 12 points, 8 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 3 steals; as well as the big time contribution of Shannon Brown off the bench scoring 22 points in his 26 minutes of play.
The Cavaliers were led by rookie sensation Dion Waiters and his 23 points, Anderson Varejao's 14 points and 10 rebounds, as well as Daniel Gibson's 19 points off the bench.
Once again, the Suns gave their fans a heart attack with the photo finish at the end, but you have to appreciate the no-quit attitude and fight in this team, and it eventually paid off for them once again.
As I'm sure Alvin Gentry will say shortly in his post game press conference, a win is a win...we'll take it.
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