The Devil's Advocate: Why the Phoenix Suns and Their Fans Aren't Laughing Now

Aaron KeelSenior Analyst IIIApril 24, 2008

"Not again."

This is the sentiment shared by most fans of the Phoenix Suns as the team’s series against the San Antonio Spurs moves back to Phoenix for Games 3 and 4.

With the team down 2-0, the players might be sharing in their fans' sentiment.

Sure, losing to the Spurs is nothing new for the Suns, who are a combined 9-16 against them, including during the playoffs, since Steve Nash rejoined the team in 2004.

But this season was different; the Suns actually won the season series with the Spurs 3-1, with two of those victories coming after their acquisition of Shaquille O’Neal, who did an excellent job on Tim Duncan.

Going into this playoff series, the Suns had an air of confidence about them. They truly believed they were the better team in the matchup and that they would finally get past a team that had been a major road block on the way to a championship.

Needless to say, things have not gone the way the Suns or their fans had planned so far.

First the team lost a heartbreaker in a Game 1 thriller after blowing a 16-point lead, controlling for most of the game.

That’s OK, the fans said, Shaq and Stoudemire were in foul trouble the whole game and the Spurs got lucky.

The players themselves seemed to believe that the game was an aberration as well, citing flopping by the Spurs and calling Tim Duncan’s miracle 3-pointer an early birthday gift. In the Suns locker room the consensus was simple going into Game 2: As long as they stayed out of foul trouble, victory was theirs for the taking.

For the first half of Game 2 it looked like they were right as the team stormed out of the gate leading by as many as 14 before going into the half leading by seven, feeling good about how the game had gone so far.

Shaq and Stoudemire were dominating, with Stoudemire going for 25 first half points and Shaq asserting himself on the defensive end, giving the Spurs fits. Better news yet, they had combined for just a single foul in the entire half.

Yep the game is ours; the attitude of the players seemed to say.

But then something happened in the second half—something that has plagued not only the team for years but their fans as well.

The Phoenix Suns happened.

In a third quarter that may have permanently shifted the balance in favor of the Spurs, the Suns became their own worst enemy as they were outscored 27-11 with almost half of those points coming from Shaquille O’Neal free throws (yes, you read that right).

The rest of the game didn’t go much better for the team, although they did manage a late rally that got them to within five before Tony Parker put the game away.

In the Suns locker room after the game the confidence shared by all before the game was replaced by disbelief.

While there is plenty of blame being thrown around for the 2-0 deficit, one thing is painfully obviously for the team and their faithful fans: an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.

This time though, for the Suns and their fans, something is different.

Unlike years past when there was always nothing but hope and high expectations for the next season just under the surface, there seems to be a feeling from the fans that this might be the last chance for this Suns team at a title.

The reasons for that thinking are, of course, simple enough.

The age of some of the team’s key players (including Steve Nash), large player salaries (Shaq will be due $21 million next season), and much improved competition in the Western Conference (Lakers, Hornets, Jazz) are all reasons why fans of the Suns are even more concerned than usual about the possible exit of their team.

The writing is on the wall and a first round exit will almost certainly lead to some serious changes in the offseason, including the possible dismissal of head coach Mike D’Antoni.

The Suns players and staff are also more than aware of what an early exit means and as they prepare for Game 3 on Friday with their season on the line (they are not coming back from 3-0 to the Spurs). In the back of their minds they may be asking themselves the same questions as the fans.

Is this the end?