EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Lessons learned from Suns’ 2021 postseason, Pt. 1: Homecourt mattered
Ahead of the Phoenix Suns’ second straight trip to the postseason, we will be taking a look back at last year’s run to the NBA Finals and what we can learn from it that should also apply to this season’s run.
First up, homecourt.
PHOENIX — Clinching homecourt for the entirety of the postseason might not matter for some teams but it sure means something for the Phoenix Suns.
In the 2021 playoffs, Suns fans brought it with a level of noise that was hard to imagine being a possibility.
I know this to be the case, because when writers from opposing squads have come into town during this 2021-22 campaign and have made a remark on the feel resembling a playoff environment, I was able to confirm it was nowhere close to what the building actually felt like last year.
“I feel it,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said of it on Saturday. “I had no idea that our place would turn into what it turned into when we came here. I think it’s an unreal advantage and I’m so grateful for the fanbase when they come out and cheer our guys on. It is an amazing atmosphere.”
The results backed up that unreal advantage Williams spoke of.
The Suns started all four series at home and not only won each Game 1 but went 7-1 in those first two games at Footprint Center to open a series.
There is an undeniable edge that it provided Phoenix with and will again this year.
“Especially having a team go through it for the first time, I’m sure it did,” Williams said of if it helped. “To have playoff games start in your place. I don’t think any of us anticipated our crowd being like that. It became somewhat of a nationally talked about thing and I think that helps. I know when I came out the first time and experienced our playoff crowd I was like, ‘Wow, this is different.'”
Speaking as someone who was there for each game, the crowd’s consistent energy was great but there was also a tremendous build when a run was happening.
That’s why, in my opinion, the loudest I remember the building was for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets with Torrey Craig’s alley-oop finish in the early third quarter.
It didn’t come close to one of the most significant moments of a trip to the Finals, but it was the apex of a tidal wave 42-14 Suns run and it was like there was a new meaning for what sound could sound like. Almost a white noise of cheering, but like, loud.
THE VALLEY IS HYPED RIGHT NOW. pic.twitter.com/uFCGb8Hhma
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) June 8, 2021
Multiple players said after that game it was the loudest environment they had ever been in. I’m sure the Valley-Oop got there too, but I was too stunned to process anything going on around me. I’m sure others in the building were with me on that one too.
I asked center Deandre Ayton what he remembers as the most deafening sequence, and his answer is rather obvious.
But he said it in a way you wouldn’t expect, citing the part of the Western Conference Finals’ Game 2 when it appeared the game was over and the Los Angeles Clippers had won.
“Definitely the Valley-Oop,” Ayton said Saturday. “I could tell you this. When they gave that turnover to us when [Patrick Beverley] hit it off [Devin Booker’s] hand, I literally heard the breath leave the whole arena. They’re like, ‘That’s it. These dudes get this, that’s it. It’s momentum going back to L.A.’
That, of course, is not what happened.
“I looked up to the skies and I just asked for one opportunity,” Ayton said.
EVERY ANGLE of Jae Crowder's pinpoint pass to Deandre Ayton to win Game 2 for the @Suns! #NBAPlayoffs #ThatsGame #NBAWCF presented by AT&T continues with Game 3 on Thursday at 9pm/et on ESPN pic.twitter.com/JMEXIj0erK
— NBA (@NBA) June 23, 2021
“That was the loudest I have ever heard that gym,” Ayton said. “I couldn’t believe. I was so shocked. My face was stuck in a way like, ‘I hear y’all screaming but I know that ball was above the cylinder a little bit. Is that legal?'”
While Williams often has a level of hyper-focus on the game, when the building gets jumping, he’s aware.
“There were so many moments,” he said when asked of one that was the most thunderous. “To start the Finals here, that was unbelievably loud to the point where I noticed it. I was like, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’ And then I went back to idiot mode. But you notice it. I’m not that crazy, man.”
It’s telling that, while including myself, three different sources produced three different responses on when the high point came.
And now that the atmosphere is a known quantity, the Suns know what to expect in terms of an upper hand their crowd gives them.
“With that crowd, with that energy, it’s definitely an advantage for us,” Craig said. “Locking up the No. 1 seed now, it gives us so much confidence knowing that everyone has to come through the Valley.”
Point guard Chris Paul has 129 career playoff games and can speak on the pluses.
“I think we really have a homecourt advantage,” he said Sunday. “Our crowd is amazing. You always would rather be home in any situation. Sleep in your own bed, eat the food that you used to, do the same routines that you used to. We grateful to our fanbase here and we just want to continue to make this a tough place to play. … We feed off of ’em. … The energy that our team feels off the crowd, there’s nothing like it.”
There’s a sense of both comfort and pride from the players on the crowd they get to play for.
“Of course. It’s the fans. It’s our Valley,” Ayton said. “The people in the Valley, they ready, man. I just can tell you that. I’ve been in these games all season. Every game, the closer it get, it gets louder than louder. More sellouts and sellouts. It’s standing room only in Footprint Center. It’s only standing room. If you want a ticket, you better stand next to the water boy or something.
“Our people ready, man. And they know we ready to put on a show for them and really take this thing man. That’s it. We ain’t asking for it. We takin’ it.”