|What is the greatest Suns
first-round moment of all time?
May 2nd, 1993 was a prime example that words can be just as powerful. It was the day, regardless of what one Brad Faye may tell you, that the greatest all-time Suns first round moment took place. In didn't occur on the court or even on the bench, but it did take place inside America West Arena.
On that Sunday afternoon, after a crushing 86-81 defeat to the Lakers that put the Suns in a 0-2 hole in their best of five series, Head Coach Paul Westphal uttered the words that would become legendary to Suns fans. During his postgame press conference in the bowels of the arena he guaranteed that, despite his team playing about as well in the series as the Buffalo Bills in a Super Bowl, they would win the next three games.
"So we're down 0-2 and I know the next question is, 'Are you guys dead?". No, we're going to win the series. We're going to win one Tuesday, the next game's Thursday, we'll win there. Then we'll come back and win the series on Sunday, and everybody will say what a great series it was. It has been. We just haven't liked it very much."
To this day those words send a shiver down the spine of any fan old enough to remember them. They were also words that made Westphal look like the Valley's own Nostradamus...
The Purple Gang from Phoenix went on to win one of the most exciting series in franchise history, mounting the improbable comeback against their rival and one of the league's most storied franchises on their way to the NBA Finals. That season and that team are still some of the most beloved in Phoenix, but if it wasn't for Westphal's speech it would at best be remembered as the Brian Dunkleman of Suns teams – around for a little while but gone long before achieving anything of real importance. A franchise record 62 wins would have been all for not, and all that would have been remembered would be those three losses in May to the hated team from L.A.
While Westphal's words weren't solely responsible for winning the series, they proved to be a galvanizing force for a roster that was floundering under lofty expectations that weighed more than starting center Oliver Miller. The energy of that series helped propel the Suns far beyond those three victories and to within two victories of the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
Earlier this year when I talked to Westphal about the moment, he downplayed it the way a proud teacher would downplay their role in a student's success.
"I didn't think we were going to lose Game 2, so I sure didn't plan it," Westphal said with a chuckle. "I believed in that team. I really did. I knew that we could win. I felt we were favored anytime we played a game so I just said, 'We just have to win one, then another and then we'll win another. We can do that.' That team was pretty special."
It was Westphal's strong belief in his team that allowed him the confidence to stick his neck and professional credibility on the line for them that made this the best and most iconic first-round moment in Suns history. It's also proof that sometimes a person's words can be powerful enough to evoke great actions from others, no matter how bad the odds are stacked against them.
I'll admit I'm a bit biased when it comes to that particular shot. I was an intern with the Suns at the time, and after such a memorable 54-win season, the last thing I wanted was for my career with Suns.com to end in the very first round of the playoffs. But I don't think that's the only reason why that shot stands out to me as being the best.
For those of you who don't remember the circumstances that set up that shot, it took place during Phoenix's series against the Lakers, which – following a stunning shot from Kobe Bryant in Game 4 – found the Suns in an unexpected 3-1 hole. The Suns managed to pull out a Game 5 victory at home, but it wasn't without consequences. Following the clothesline delivered by Raja Bell to Kobe Bryant, it was announced that the starting Suns guard would be suspended for Game 6 back in Los Angeles.
As they had all season for the Suns, players stepped up when they needed to – this time in an elimination game. But the team still found itself down three with just seconds remaining. Thomas – who had signed with Phoenix midseason – then sunk a beautiful shot from downtown that left just 6.3 seconds on the clock and eventually forced overtime. The Suns took control of that extra session, tying the series 3-3 and setting up the Game 7 massacre that took place at US Airways Center. The Suns not only won the series, but made it all the way to the 2006 Western Conference Finals.
There are a lot of places you can look when discussing standout opening round moments in Phoenix Suns lore. In fact, you can compile a pretty decent list based off moments that took place against the Lakers alone. Greg may try to impress you with complicated words like "galvanizing", and he may try to throw me off my game by throwing my beloved Bills under the bus, but I implore you not to fall for his tricks. While what Paul Westphal did was bold, and while it pains me as a Suns fan to try and demean that moment for the sake of my argument, even Charles Barkley has pondered what else Westphal was supposed to say in that situation. It's also a mystery as to how much that press conference actually inspired the team as opposed to the fact that they were facing elimination. I can vouch for Thomas' shot equaling three points that forcing overtime. I'll be the first to admit a bias in my selection of Thomas' shot, but let's keep things in perspective here. Thomas went out, delivered the pump fake and delivered the shot that helped the Suns to a tough victory on the road. Can you really hold it against him that he didn't prognosticate that shot beforehand?
I don't think there's a Suns fan out there right now who doesn't at least remember where they were and what they were doing when Thomas connected from 3-point land. For me, it was at a Suns viewing party in Scottsdale, smiling from ear to ear at the fact that I knew I would have the opportunity to attend at least one more game that season.