There are certain things that are viewed as universal "truths". The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. A week is seven days long. Nicolas Cage plays the same character no matter what the script calls for. The San Antonio Spurs are dirty and the Phoenix Suns are soft. I guess four out of five ain't bad.
Things on Planet Orange have been turned upside down as the one universal truths that stood above all others, forgo defensive toughness for offensive efficiency, has been violated. The Suns being viewed as a "tough" and "dirty" team seems as counter-intuitive as realizing UPN and BET comedian Mo'Nique won an Oscar for her supporting role in a dramatic film. No matter how confusing it is, both became 100% true this weekend.
The Suns have shown signs of being a mentally and physically tough team since the insertion of center Robin Lopez into the starting lineup (which is ironic, seeing as Lopez looks more like a goofy cartoon character than a physical NBA big man). Couple his emergence with a truly aggressive, tough, and defensive-minded bench, and all of a sudden Phoenix looks more like my abs in high school (solid and tough) than my abs now (completely soft).
For the first time that I can remember, the moniker "the Purple Gang from Phoenix" is actually fitting and not just a cute nickname for a group of guys in purple jerseys with no edge. This rendition of the Suns has a lot of toughness and fight in them, literally and figuratively.
Saturday night's game against the Pacers was the official funeral of the "Seven Sissies or Less" era of Suns basketball.
The service began late in the third quarter and Jason Richardson and Channing Frye were the pallbearers.
With 46.7 seconds left to go in the quarter, Indiana's Earl Watson shoved the Suns' Channing Frye. Then, Danny Granger took a swipe at Frye who retaliated with a swing of his own. Both the Suns' Jason Richardson and the Pacers' Roy Hibbert joined the tussle a few moments later (all of this occurring just days after Robin Lopez got a flagrant foul for a hard foul on the Jazz's Andrei Kirilenko). Add in the fact that they out rebound the Pacers by 14, score almost four times as many points in the paint as they did on the fast break (42-11), held them to 37% shooting and the "soft" label was officially laid to rest. (I mean really, when the three-point shooting 7'1" Channing Frye, who is 175 pounds soaking wet, is willing to mix it up for your team, you can no longer be viewed as lacking toughness.)
I'm not a proponent of violence in sports, but the fact that the Suns showed an edge they've lacked is an important step for the team. The toughness they've shown, mixed with the team's offensive efficiency, is the mark of a good team with the potential to be great.
Don't trust my assessment that the Suns have shed their soft reputation? Well, it's not a view that I and a few other lowly bloggers share, it's something players and analysts around the league are starting to take notice of.
The Pacers' Danny Granger said the Suns "were playing dirty and (throwing) cheap shots" after Saturday's game.
TNT's Charles Barkley, no stranger to criticizing the Suns for their style of play, has even begun singing a different tune about the team's mentality:
"I criticized that little sissy ball (the Suns have) been playing for the last few years where you just try to outscore people. That's never going to work. I want to take my hat off to Alvin Gentry, he's changed their mindset. He brought in (Robin) Lopez and I love watching Lopez, he just plays defense and rebounds.
"If I'm going to look at a stat after every game for a good team, it's turnovers and rebounds. The Suns turn the ball over way too much and they don't rebound the ball. They went to a conventional lineup so Amar'e can cheat a little on rebounding. Lopez does a great job on the board. When you try to play small, you give up a lot of shots and a lot of shots around the basket. But the main thing you can't do is you can't rebound the ball.
"I take my hat off to Alvin, it's about time he stopped playing girlie ball. The toughest team in Phoenix was the (WNBA's) Mercury, but not anymore!"
The fact that the Suns have actually won over their biggest critic is proof positive that the "run and fun" team that was all the rage is officially gone.
When Steve Kerr traded for Shaquille O'Neal and hired Terry Porter he was trying to bring a tougher mindset to the franchise. Ironically enough, he's gotten everything he wanted, it just came after the departure of both Porter and O'Neal. Kerr's vision has become a reality because of a coach thought to be cut from the same cloth as Mike D'Antoni and a rag tag group of players like Jared Dudley, Louis Amundson, Goran Dragic, and the aforementioned Robin Lopez leading the charge.
There are certain things that are viewed as "universal truths". Apparently the Phoenix Suns being soft just isn't one of them.