Mike D’ Antoni’s system can’t work in the playoffs!
This one has bugged me for fucking ever. Just another lazy opinion repeated endlessly by those who don’t know any better until it becomes “fact”, even if it isnt. Really, the motivation I need to write this finally came this year, both from the repeated undermining of the job D’ Antoni has done with the Lakers (Blame Dwight for being Dwight and Jimmy Buss for hiring the wrong guy, in that order) and by the repeated assertions that the Clippers can’t win a title by merely outscoring their opponents, much the same way the D’ Antoni Suns used to.
In the four full seasons of the Mike D’ Antoni/Steve Nash era, Phoenix was a combined 231-96, primarily because they scored approximately 4 billion points. They transformed Steve Nash from an above average point guard to a 2 time MVP, a 29 win Suns team into a serious contender and a number of marginal NBA players (Raja Bell, Boris Diaw, Leandro Barbosa) into very useful ones. As great as Nash was in Phoenix, the system was every bit as responsible for the success as Nash was, and much of it as they had out there in the desert, it should have been so much more. In year one of the D’ Antoni/Nash era, the Suns won 59 games, cruised through the first two round of the playoffs, then met their demise at the hands of the eventual Champion Spurs who dispatched them in 5 games. Yeah, they didn’t win it all, but their first season together can hardly be considered a failure, can it?
2006 was almost over it before it started for these guys, what with Amar’e Stoudemire taken out by the dread microfracture. Even with a lineup that sported old man Kurt Thomas in Stoudemire’s place, the Suns sill won 54 games and once again found themselves in the Western Finals against the Spurs. By this time, they were starting Boris Diaw at center and eternal underachiever Tim Thomas at Small Forward and still, somehow, managed to take the Mavericks to 6 games before bowing out. Now, I’m not inferring that they automatically win if Amar’e is healthy that year, but it stands to reason that they would have had at least a decent shot at beating the Mavs here if he were. Tough to argue against that.
That brings us to 2007. After having made two Western Conference finals appearances, the Suns were getting Amar’e back and poised to make that breakthrough. There they were, cruising to a game 4 win in San Antonio that evened the series at 2 games apiece and gave Phoenix back homecourt advantage, putting them in the drivers’ seat against the team that would ultimately win the title. Now, Phoenix could head home knowing they had a best of three scenario left with the Spurs in which they had two home games. They had to be feeling like it was there time.
Then, this happened.
They call it the “Ron Artest rule”, named after the most (infamous) of all american sports brawls.. It’s basic principle is that any player not in the game who steps so much as a foot on the court during a fight is immediately suspended for at least one game. It’s consequences were felt here on a level that they never had been, before or since.
Total bullshit play, totally appropriate response, right? Watch the end of that video and you can see Amar’e Stoudemire and Bris Diaw “leave the bench” by the very letter of the law, if not the spirit of it. For that, the two were suspended for game 5 , the short-handed Suns were forced to make a go of it with a 6 man rotation and fell short, 88-85. After that, game 6 was a formality, and one could argue that since Utah was the other Western Conference Finalist and baby LeBron’s Cleveland team won the East, (and were summarily swept by San Antonio) it’s more or less fair to say the winner of this series was the likely champion.
After that, everythng goes downhill in Phoenix. Years of trading away first round pick as a way to save money (blame cheapskate owner Robert Sarver for that one) finally catches up with them as their depth starts to erode. Even worse, the Lakers’ brilliant deal to snatch up Pau Gasol from Memphis results in a league-wide panic as fellow West contenders start making desperate moves to keep up with the joneses: First, the Mavs’ swing a blockbuster for the aging Jason Kidd, which helped them years later but not immediately, then the Suns make a deal for a then-35 and almost comically out-of-shape Shaquille O’ Neal. Of course, the deal for Shaq was officially the end of the D’ Antoni run & gun era, and coach Mike would quit to take the Knicks coaching job less than three months later.
So, remember all of this the next time you hear someone yelling about how the Suns were “playoff failures” or “D’ Antoni’s system can’t win titles!”. In this case, it should have. It really should have.
Just remember. That’s all I ask.