Suns Know First Hand 0-2 Deficit Can be Overcome
Posted: April 24, 2008
It’s safe to assume a 0-2 hole in the opening round of the 2008 Playoffs is not what the Phoenix Suns had planned. At the same time, not much has really gone as planned when it comes to the NBA’s Western Conference this postseason.
The Dallas Mavericks – a team that won 67 games a year ago – opened up their playoffs on the road against New Orleans, a two seed that failed to qualify for the 2007 Playoffs altogether. Meanwhile, the fourth-seeded Jazz - known for their strong play at home - were also on the road, playing the fifth-seeded Rockets and grabbing both victories on the road. In fact, the only part of this Western Conference postseason that hasn’t been a complete surprise was the Lakers winning their two first games against the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets… a Nuggets team, which by the way, has more wins than any other eighth seed in NBA history.
As far as the Suns and Spurs go, their postseason battles seem to have risen to the point where fans expect the unexpected. But while double-overtime thrillers and last-second heroics may not have caught anybody off guard during this go-around, the deficit the Suns now face was a bit more unforeseen than usual.
“We had our shots, we just didn’t make them,” Suns Head Coach Mike D'Antoni said of the team’s first two games in San Antonio. “You’ve got to give them credit, they’re champions and they know when to throw the hammer down. We need to do a better job of capitalizing and we’ll see what happens in Game 3.”
But while D'Antoni is confident his Suns will bounce back after their return to Phoenix, in no way does he dismiss the work ahead of them.
“We still don’t have any doubts we can win this series. Now having said that, we understand they’re the world champions and they’re going to come out and give us all they’ve got the rest of this series. But our guys are ready and there won’t be any backing down on our side.”
In the history of the NBA, only 13 times has a team come back to win a series after dropping the first two contests. But while history may not appear to be on the Suns side, there are a number of factors that are promising. One is the fact that recent history does appear a bit more optimistic for teams staring at a 0-2 hole. Five times in the past four seasons a team has overcome the deficit and with seven of eight series this postseason currently standing at 0-2, it only seems natural for another to join the ranks.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Steve Nash said of the possibility. “I can use every cliché in the book, but if we play our butts off, we give ourselves a great chance to win now that we’re back on our home floor.”
All-Star Amaré Stoudemire agrees the return to the Valley is another factor shining on the side of the Suns.
“We’re home now and that’s big,” STAT said of the change in time zones. “You’re around your family and in an environment you’re comfortable with. Then you’ve got the support of your fans which is always great. They’re cheering you on, reminding you of all the support you really have. Now we’ve got to be ready to go out there in front of them on Friday and hopefully win real big.”
But perhaps the largest factor working in favor of the Suns is the fact they have guys who have been there before. Among them, one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players Shaquille O’Neal, who has twice climbed over the 0-2 mountain en route to a series victory.
“In a series like this where momentum means so much, all it takes is one win to get things back in your favor,” the Diesel said at Suns practice on Thursday.
O’Neal has witnessed the dramatic shift that momentum can cause back in 2004, when Derek Fisher’s memorable shot in Game 5 helped Shaq’s Lakers to an eventual series win over the Spurs. After back-to-back double digit losses to start the series, the Lakers went back to Los Angeles where O’Neal and company rallied to a pair of victories of their own.
Derek Fisher's dramatic shot in Game 5 quickly turned around the Lakers-Spurs series in 2004.
In Game 5, Tim Duncan nailed what appeared to be the game winner in the form of an off-balanced 20-footer. The shot left Los Angeles with just 0.4 seconds to work with, but somehow that proved to be more than enough for Fisher. While the buzzer beater was protested by San Antonio, the miraculous shot was not overturned and the Lakers returned home for Game 6 where they closed out the series.
“Fisher hit that shot and they just fed off that momentum the rest of the way,” Suns forward Sean Marks said of L.A.’s play in that series.
Marks was on that San Antonio Spurs team that lost the series and said while the outcome was anything but positive, it did manage to teach him a valuable lesson nonetheless.
“It just went to show that all it takes in this league is one win to get your mojo going again. Derek Fisher hit that shot and after that, we just didn’t have an answer for them. One play can turn a series around real quick, there’s no doubt about it.”
While O’Neal’s Lakers would ultimately come up short in that year’s NBA Finals to the Pistons, the Big Aristotle would not be denied in 2006 when his Heat faced a similar situation against the Dallas Mavericks. After losing two contests in Big D on the NBA’s grandest stage, O’Neal’s new team, the Heat, returned to Miami where they wheeled of three straight victories. Accompanied by Dwyane “The Flash” Wade, Superman returned to Dallas in Game 6 where he captured his fourth NBA title.
“I don’t think there’s anything I haven’t seen before,” O’Neal said. “If you want to win championships in this league you do whatever it takes and you overcome obstacles. In a series like this where momentum means so much, all it takes is one win to get things back in your favor.”
Heading into Friday night’s Game 3 back in Phoenix, O’Neal sees plenty of reasons for that to again be the case with his newest team, the Suns.
“I told the guys, ‘Hey, the Spurs did what they were supposed to do and now it’s our turn.’ We know we have to win at home to make this a series and we think we can do that. The Spurs are a veteran team that have been in the playoffs and they know what they have to do. If we want to fight them for that, we now have to do what we have to do, that’s it.
“There’s been a lot of playoff history between these teams but I don’t think the Spurs are in anybody’s heads. Before you succeed you must first learn to fail. It happens to every great team and it eventually gets to a point where you get tired of losing.”
As far as his personal history of overcoming 0-2 deficits, O'Neal has learned the same lessons from the winner’s perspective as Marks did back in 2004.
“Both the times those teams came back, I remember in both situations after we got Game 3 you could already feel things starting to change. That’s why all we need to do is take this next game and we’ll be fine.”
O’Neal’s current teammate Gordan Giricek has also experienced that sudden change in a series, unfortunately from the other end of the spectrum. In 2003, Giricek’s eighth seeded Orlando Magic had the backs of the heavily-favored Pistons against the wall up 3-1 in the series. But behind an astonishing Pistons rally, Giricek and the Magic ultimately fell in seven games.
“I remember that series too well,” the sharpshooter said of Orlando’s collapse. "It was tough."
The series is also remembered well by another Suns forward, Grant Hill, who was Giricek's teammate on that Orlando Magic ballclub. Unable to participate in the series due to injury, Hill feels this Suns team has what it takes to exhibit that same never-say-die attitude displayed by those Pistons.
“We still feel like we’ve got a lot of basketball ahead of us,” Hill said following Thursday’s practice. “We still believe we can win this series and come tomorrow night we think that will start to show.”
“The Pistons proved why they were champions and took that series game by game,” Giricek said. “I remember as the series went on you could feel them becoming more and more confident and the more they won the more things started swinging in their favor.”
Gordan Giricek has experienced a dramatic series turnaround from both ends of the floor.
A few seasons later with Utah, Giricek experienced that swing himself as a member of the Jazz. After losing the first two games of their 2007 series on the road, the Jazz returned to Utah for a little home cooking in the form of back-to-back victories. The Rockets capitalized off their home court in Game 6, but then dropped two straight as the Jazz advanced.
That Utah Jazz team was the last Western Conference team to overcome an 0-2 series deficit and the Croatian is now hoping it’s not the last.
“Anybody who works their way to a championship has to go through some tough situations and down 0-2 to the defending champions, we’re in one now,” Giricek said. “It’s going to be hard but we have a quality team with quality players and feel we can do it. We realize we were up in both games in San Antonio and mistakes helped the Spurs pull out victories. I think with some corrections we won’t allow that to be the case here in Phoenix. We have to play 100% and think some good things will start to happen.”
But while some Suns players have proven that dramatic comebacks in a series are possible, one can understand why Suns fans would be skeptical. The only experience the Suns organization has in astonishing 0-2 turnarounds, unfortunately, is losing them. Twice during the mid 1990s the Suns dropped series to the Rockets in which they lead 2-0, both times watching Houston go on to win the championship.
One person not concerned with skepticism, however, is D'Antoni who stated he’s in no way bothered by fair-weather fans who’ve climbed out onto their ledge.
“Let them jump, Phoenix is getting a little overcrowded anyway,” the Head Coach laughed. “We’ve got like six million people here so I think we’ll be fine.”