Despite falling just short of the playoffs, the Phoenix Suns put together one of the most improbable individual seasons the league has ever seen. Before the 2013-14 campaign began, many experts -- including local ones -- figured the team would win somewhere between 15 and 25 games.
The joke was on them, however, as the Suns were competitive from the beginning and stayed well above .500 for a majority of the season -- almost reaching 50 wins, in fact. Twenty of the Phoenix's 48 victories came against teams who qualified for the NBA Playoffs. Even more satisfying is the fact Phoenix defeated seven of the eight playoff teams in the Western Conference at least once.
It's bittersweet to write this as Arizona's longest-running professional team sits at home as 16 other squads begin postseason play, but there is a lot to look back on and appreciate over the course of a Suns season that seemingly nobody saw coming.
Let's rewind the 2013-14 campaign by taking a look at the five most impressive, chest-thumping victories put forth by the Phoenix Suns.
1. Jan. 22, 2014 - Suns 124, Pacers 100
The Indiana Pacers rolled into town with the best record in the league when they took on the Suns on Jan. 22. The game marked the first for the season for Phoenix playing to a national TV audience (ESPN), and the home team did not disappoint. The Suns built a 13-point lead by halftime and pretty much put the Pacers away in the third quarter -- and the home crowd seemed to appreciate every moment of it.
Despite missing Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix finished with 124 points (a season-best mark up until that point) and showed the country it was ready to go toe-to-toe with the NBA's elite. Gerald Green scored 23 against his former team, and all Suns starters reached double-figures, with Markieff Morris leading the bench with 20.
Just over a week later, the Suns were on the road and once again defeated Indiana -- which finished the season with the best record in the Eastern Conference -- by a 102-94 margin. That triumph was arguably just as, or more, impressive than the Jan. 22 contest, but I'm going with the earlier win because of the circumstantional factors previously mentioned -- national audience, Pacers' record, thoroughly convincing victory and season high in points.
2. March 6, 2014 - Suns 128, Thunder 122
The Oklahoma City Thunder were still adjusting to the recent return of star guard Russell Westbrook to their lineup when they came into Phoenix for a March 6 contest. The Thunder kept Phoenix at bay for most of the first half and even built a 16-point lead with under four minutes left in the third quarter, but Green and Morris put some life into the Suns and helped them take the lead by the end of the period.
The home team executed down the stretch, Morris got under the skin of Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka, and Phoenix finished with its second-highest point total of the season. Both Green and Morris motioned to the crowd as the Suns built a comeback, engrossing the fans in the game. The energy in the building was palpable, even if you were watching the action at home. Green shot his way to a season-high 41 points, while Morris added 24 and Dragic had 22 for the Suns, who overcame a combined 70 points from Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Phoenix had another close, rousing home victory over the Thunder exactly one month later (April 6), but I think the March one was more memorable due to the Suns being without Bledsoe's services and considering they had lost 11 straight to Oklahoma City prior to that point -- with the previous win being on Dec. 19, 2010. Also, like them or not, it was the first game in which the the team wore its black, sleeved "Los Suns" alternate jerseys.
3. Feb. 21, 2014 - Suns 106, Spurs 85
It's always good to beat the Spurs.
Even though San Antonio was missing Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard on Feb. 21, Phoenix didn't pull any punches, as it gained control in the second quarter and didn't let up, earning its first win over the Spurs at Planet Orange since the final game of the 2010-11 season.
The game marked the first sellout at US Airways Center in the 2013-14 campaign, and the home team did not disappoint. Goran Dragic had an off night with only eight points, but the scoring was pretty spread out among the rest of Jeff Hornacek's club, as five Suns players reached double-figures. Markieff Morris scored a game-high 21 points, while Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili only played a combined 34 minutes, as the Suns had the game in hand and both coaches emptied their benches in the fourth quarter.
It would be the Suns' only victory over the Spurs -- who lost only 20 times all season -- in four tries. Phoenix tried its mightiest to steal one in San Antonio last Friday, but those efforts weren't quite good enough, and the Suns lost valuable position in the playoff race.
4. March 23, 2014 - Suns 127, Timberwolves 120
Phoenix put together several impressive comeback wins over the course of the campaign, but March 23 in Minnesota was the biggest one of them all.
Down 22 early in the second quarter to the Timberwolves, the Suns closed it to 11 by halftime, and early in the fourth quarter, they made their run, finishing with 66 second-half points and taking the crowd out of the game.
Dragic, Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker all had strong games for Phoenix, but the bench was instrumental in keeping the team in the game: Markieff Morris poured in a team-high 25 points, Green added 14, Marcus Morris scored 11 and Ish Smith had eight.
Phoenix claimed victory despite a near triple-double from Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (36 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists). It was important win as the Suns jockeyed for playoff positioning, and it marked the third in a season-long six game streak.
5. March 2, 2014 - Suns 129, Hawks 120
There are a couple games mentioned below that could have taken this one's place had Phoenix pulled off a postseason berth, but since that didn't happen, I'm going with the March 2 contest versus Atlanta from a pure entertainment perspective.
The Suns exploded out of the gate and nearly broke a US Airways Center record by putting up 79 first half points. Seventy-nine! The Hawks, however, almost kept pace, and the game turned into an offensive showcase, as defensive stops were few and far between. The Men in Orange added 50 in the second half and finished with a season-high total of 129, while the Hawks posted a not-to-shabby 120 points.
Both teams were comfortably over 50 percent shooting in the game, while the Suns made 15 out of 24 3-pointers for a sizzling percentage of 62.5 from behind the arc. Green scored a game-high 33 points, Dragic added 19 and the Morris twins combined for 39. Jeff Teague dropped 29 on the Suns while Kyle Korver kept his historic 3-point streak going by hitting 6-of-7 from behind the long line. (His streak would end the following game.)
Atlanta finished the season below .500, but qualified for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. It may not have been the toughest opponent the Suns defeated in 2013-14, but the two teams put on quite a show in Phoenix in early March.
Other notable Suns wins:
April 4, 2014 - Suns 109, Trail Blazers 93 (Suns' dominance of Portland continued as Phoenix picked up important win while it was still in the playoff hunt)
Dec. 30, 2013 - Suns 107, Clippers 88 (probably would have made the list had it not looked like an aberration, considering the way the Suns played the Clippers the rest of the year)
March 28, 2014 - Suns 112, Knicks 88 (thorough dominance of New York for the Suns' sixth win in a row in a game Hornacek called Phoenix's best overall performance)
Jan. 26, 2014 - Suns 99, Cavaliers 90 (Suns overcome 18-point halftime deficit to win in Cleveland)
Dec. 20, 2013 - Suns 103, Nuggets 99 (Green and Markieff Morris again help Suns engineer comeback as Phoenix erases a 21-point Denver lead)
Dec. 15, 2013 - Suns 106, Warriors 102 (one of the few tight games in which Phoenix was able to execute down the stretch and hold on for a win -- especially against a playoff-quality team)
Jan. 8, 2014 - Suns 104, Timberwolves 103 (Green hits a game-winning fadeaway with 3.9 seconds left to give Phoenix its only road win on an early January five-game trip)