DAN BICKLEY

Suns’ season was unqualified success even after blowing 2-0 NBA Finals lead

Jul 20, 2021, 9:45 PM | Updated: Jul 21, 2021, 12:28 am

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks defends against Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns ...

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks defends against Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half in Game Six of the NBA Finals at Fiserv Forum on July 20, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

MILWAUKEE — The final buzzer was a vicious alarm clock.

Wake up, Phoenix. The dream is over.

A historic season came to a crashing halt Tuesday night in Milwaukee, marking the third time in history our beloved franchise has finished as NBA bridesmaids. Never forget how this team took us on the ride of our lives. Raise a glass and remember them well.

The Suns fought valiantly on defense in Game 6. They gave no quarter. Chris Paul played 39 gritty minutes. It wasn’t enough to derail a basketball superhero named Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose skill and will were simply too much.

Giannis (50 points, 14 rebounds, 17-of-19 free throws) is now the only player other than Michael Jordan to win Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP and All-Star Game MVP. He is a great ambassador for the league.

He richly deserves this moment, even though our pain is profound.

“It’s tough,” said a clearly dejected Paul. “A great group of guys. A hell of a season.”

Failure isn’t always disappointing. Disappointment isn’t always failure. The 2020-21 Suns are somewhere in between. Their season was an unqualified success, even after blowing a 2-0 series lead in the Finals.

The Suns won playoff series against both teams from Los Angeles. They eliminated LeBron James in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his decorated career. The Valley-Oop will go down as one of the greatest game-winning plays in NBA history. The Valley rally outside the airport following a Game 6 win against the Clippers was a testament to the power of sports, and how enriched our lives become when a community joins hands with their favorite team.

“It hurts … badly,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I’m also grateful that we had this chance to play for a championship.”

From a basketball standpoint, the Suns are only getting started. If they re-sign Paul and keep their nucleus together, they will be a title contender for the next few years. Their experiences in the 2021 playoffs will be priceless, especially if the pain of Tuesday’s defeat is fuel burning deep within.

There are regrets over the injuries and setbacks that derailed the brilliance of Paul. But injuries happen in the postseason. That’s not a curse. That’s the cost of business. Moving forward, the Suns might require serious discussions about load management, the loathsome act of resting key players to save them for the two-month postseason grind.

“Everyone in that locker room thought we had enough,” Paul said. “It wasn’t enough.”

The reality struck hard. Near the end of his press conference, Williams became choked up with emotion, losing his voice in the process.

“It’s hard to process right now,” Williams said. “It’s hard.”

Yes, it is. But there are victories to celebrate. From a community perspective, the Suns rekindled a powerful force. After 10 years of dysfunction and apathy, they have restored the roar. They unleashed the best new home-court advantage in the NBA.

This new generation of Suns fans represents the future of Phoenix. The audience is young, passionate and diverse. They are white, Black and Latino, a coalition that combined to create incredible energy inside Footprint Center. They affirm to all of us that a multicultural tapestry in Arizona is something to embrace and not fear. And most of it occurred before Phoenix Suns Arena sold naming rights before its final home game of the season, adding a symbolic level of innocence and purity to the story.

The Suns also gave the Valley a tremendous diversion. Following a traumatic 2020 marked by a pandemic, political rancor and racial division, the Suns galvanized the community. They gave us a reason to scream together, not at one another.

The Suns were also a source of inspiration. Consider the story of David Boothe, a friend of mine who was riding his motorcycle on April 15 when he was struck by a truck driver outside of Wickenburg. His life was spared but his right leg was not. Five agonizing weeks later, Boothe underwent amputation.

The Suns provided fuel for Boothe’s soul and spirit. He even adopted Williams’ famous quote as his daily mantra.

“The Suns have provided something to look forward to and something to focus on other than the pain,” Boothe said. “The way the team members focus on team goals and not individual statistics is a reminder that what I sacrifice now will lead to my future recovery. I know I can get to the other side of hard.”

In the end, the Suns never got to the other side of hard. They aren’t coming home with Larry, a championship trophy that has eluded this franchise for over five decades. But they took us on an incredible journey when we needed it most. And with any luck, the end was just the beginning.

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) battle for the ball during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) battles for the ball against Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) battles under the basket against Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, center, and center Deandre Ayton, right, during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives past Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer watches form the bench during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton (22) slam dunks during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams watches from the bench during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks center Bobby Portis (9) reacts during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday challenges Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) as he drives to the basket during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) battles against Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez, facing, pressures Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Fans watch television coverage of Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes to the basket over Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker and Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, bottom right, during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Fans watch television coverage of Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) moves towards the basket against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) shoots over Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Fans watch television coverage of Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) goes to the basket against Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) works the ball against Milwaukee Bucks guard Bryn Forbes (7) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is double teamed by Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) and guard Chris Paul during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash) Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) goes to the basket against Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez (11) reacts during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) slam dunks over Phoenix Suns forward Frank Kaminsky (8), forward Mikal Bridges (25) and forward Jae Crowder (99) during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) goes to the basket against Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and guard Jrue Holiday (21) during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) looks to pass under pressure from Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, left, and forward Jae Crowder during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts during the second half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) Fans cheer after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals to win the NBA championship Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hugs forward P.J. Tucker after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won 105-98. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo hugs forward P.J. Tucker after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won 105-98. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash) Fans cheer after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals to win the championship, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) Fireworks explode over Fiserv Forum after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) 
              Fans watch Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
            
              Milwaukee Bucks center Bobby Portis (9) reacts during the first half of Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
            
              Fans watch television coverage of Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
            Fans cheer after the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of the NBA basketball finals, Tuesday, July 20, 2021, in Milwaukee. The Bucks won the NBA championship. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) holds the finals MVP trophy after the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Milwaukee, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. The Bucks won 105-98. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Dan Bickley

DeAndre Hopkins speaks after a game...

Dan Bickley

DeAndre Hopkins’ release ends WR’s selfish legacy with Cardinals

For the second time in three years, DeAndre Hopkins is moving on to another team and bringing little or nothing of value in return.

3 days ago

Jonathan Gannon...

Dan Bickley

Cardinals’ Jonathan Gannon has become Eagles’ Super Bowl scapegoat

Thanks to the perceived outrage in Philadelphia, Jonathan Gannon is suddenly considered one of the more unscrupulous coaches in the NFL.

8 days ago

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker...

Dan Bickley

Devin Booker’s silence raises questions on his state of mind

This isn't the time for brooding silence and cryptic tweets. This is time for a franchise player to reassure a fan base the future is bright.

10 days ago

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams hands off the ball during a break in the action during the f...

Dan Bickley

Monty Williams deserved to be fired by Suns, more changes warranted

Monty Williams once stood on a pedestal, praised for instilling culture, mentoring young players, returning respect and dignity to Phoenix.

19 days ago

Phoenix Suns Kevin Durant...

Dan Bickley

Suns are latest failure of championship dream in Phoenix

Championship dreams always die hard. In Phoenix, they die angry. The 2022-23 Suns are just our latest failure.

22 days ago

Phoenix Suns Denver Nuggets...

Dan Bickley

All margin for error has vanished after Suns lose Game 5 to Nuggets

The next episode of the Devin and Kevin Show will be set in an extreme location. It will take place on the brink of elimination.

23 days ago

Suns’ season was unqualified success even after blowing 2-0 NBA Finals lead