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Dan Bickley

These Suns could change everything about Valley fandom for the better

Fans cheer after Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns scored against the Denver Nuggets during the second half in Game One of the Western Conference second-round playoff series at Phoenix Suns Arena on June 07, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Nuggets 122-105. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns are an extremely likable crew. They possess old-school grit and just the right amount of goofiness. They are the antidote to the shortcut, super team mentality infecting the NBA.

They have struck a powerful chord in the Valley.

There are many talking points attached to a rollicking 122-105 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Their depth was on display, where all five starters scored in double figures. Torrey Craig resurfaced with nine points and eight rebounds in 17 sizzling minutes.

This was also the Mikal Bridges game, the X-factor, who authored a collection of game-changing highlights in the third quarter.

The culture in Phoenix is so strong that 60% of the Suns’ starting lineup entered the postseason with zero playoff experience and yet Devin Booker, Bridges and Deandre Ayton are performing like they knew exactly what to expect.

“I thought (Bridges) picked his spots well,” head coach Monty Williams said. “He had 23 points on 12 shots, along with five assists. For a guy who we don’t call very many plays for, that’s a pretty efficient night.”

But once again, this game was a testament to the growing bandwagon and the new energy filling up Phoenix Suns Arena in the postseason of 2021. It’s new. It’s fresh. There was no Lakers hangover in Game 1 against the Nuggets. Instead, it was another livewire crowd that didn’t need to be prompted by the scoreboard or the public address announcer.

It’s the kind of communal in-game experience that effectively mocks the profiteers who seek to sell their tickets. It’s the kind of rabid gathering that will discourage transplanted fans in the future. Historically, the only reason our stadiums have been overrun with opposing fans is because those infidels feel way too comfortable on enemy turf.

These Suns could change everything about Valley fandom. For the better.

“This crowd is crazy,” Chris Paul said. “It’s crazy to have the fans in there … the energy … there’s nothing like it. I told the guys this is why we fought so hard in the regular season to have home-court advantage.”

It’s worth noting that the night began with a bout of indignation. Knicks boss Tom Thibodeau won the media’s version of Coach of the Year, even though Monty Williams had more first-place votes. Both coaches had great years and solid cases, but the local reaction was proof our persecution complex can be exhausting.

Soon, there were more important things to worry about. The Nuggets have weapons and real resilience and the impending NBA Most Valuable Player. They led 70-60 in the second half. But once the Suns started making defensive stops, the game turned on a dime. The visitors never had a chance.

Not against a better team and a fully vested audience. And on Monday, it was just like the old times, when the Suns lit up a big-event, celebrity-obsessed town.

An Ayton dunk brought noted chef Guy Fieri out of his seat. Rex Chapman made an appearance as an in-house hype man. Jimmy Eat World performed at halftime, a marquee band that hails from the Valley. Booker even replicated his famous pose from inside the bubble.

It all felt so authentic and legitimate, so new yet so familiar, a love affair that has been resuscitated after an 11-year hiatus. And when the Nuggets surrendered, putting in five reserves with 2:15 remaining, it was the perfect ending to another memorable night in downtown Phoenix. With no end in sight just yet.

Reach Bickley at Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier