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Dan Bickley

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

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)

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.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. 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 AZCentral.com 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 ArizonaSports.com.
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