This was going to be the year for the Phoenix Suns. They slayed the dragon, eliminating LeBron James and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Next, there was an impressive sweep of the Denver Nuggets, the team that faced the Lakers in last year’s Western Conference final, in the second round of postseason play.
Even though the Suns finished the regular season as the NBA’s No. 2 Western Conference seed with a 51-21 record, one game back of the leading Utah Jazz, the pundits still weren’t sold on the Suns. Online sports betting sites such as Betway still rated the Suns as a second-tier choice among the contenders for the NBA title. As Phoenix rolled through the playoffs, the Suns’ long-suffering fans were certain the critics would finally be silenced.
Then, on the eve of the Western Conference final against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Chris Paul news broke. Phoenix’s starting point guard had tested positive for COVID-19. His status for the series is entirely up in the air. “Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul is currently out due to health and safety protocols,” the team announced.
Paul missed Game 1 of the series against the Clippers. It was his fifth day in the COVID protocols. Paul is averaging 15.7 points and 8.7 assists per game in the playoffs. He is shooting 51 percent from the field, 44 percent from 3-point range and 91 percent from the foul line. He scored 37 points in Game 4 against the Nuggets as Phoenix eliminated Denver.
The curse continues.
“Chris Paul, LA Clippers” by Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Could’ve Had Kareem
Long-suffering Suns fans can go back through more than half a century of heartbreak. The 1968-69 NBA season saw the Suns post an NBA-worst 16-66 record – the same record as the Milwaukee Bucks. There wasn’t an NBA Draft Lottery in those days. Ties were broken by the flip of a coin.
A newspaper poll suggested that the Suns call heads in the coin flip. They listened to their fans. The coin came up tails. The top pick in the NBA Draft – UCLA center Lew Alcindor, who’d later adopt the muslim faith and change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – went to the Bucks. Two years later, he’d lead Milwaukee to an NBA title.
“That was one moment that was hard to shake,” then-Suns owner Jerry Colangelo later admitted.
Losing The Longest Game
The Suns made it to their first NBA Finals during the 1975-76 season. Facing the legendary Boston Celtics, the best-of-seven series was deadlocked 2-2 through four games and tied 95-95 with five seconds left in Game 5 when Boston’s Paul Silas called timeout.
There was just one problem – the Celtics were out of timeouts. Boston should’ve been assessed a technical foul, which would’ve sent the Suns to the free-throw line. However, the game officials didn’t acknowledge the timeout request. The game went to triple overtime and Boston ultimately won 128-126. The Celtics would win the series in six games.
“Charles Barkley” by Getty Images is licensed under CC BY 3.0
Sir Charles Almost Delivers
The addition of all-star forward Charles Barkley was supposed to finally put the Suns over the top and when they reached the 1992-93 NBA Finals – their first visit there since that 1975-76 series with Boston – it appeared adding Barkley would pay dividends.
Facing Michael Jordan and the defending NBA champion Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals, Phoenix was down 3-2 in the series. With 14.4 seconds left in regulation time of Game 6, the Suns held a 98-96 lead. But just when it looked as though they’d force Game 7, Chicago’s John Paxson hit a 3-pointer with 3.9 seconds to go and the Bulls won 99-98.
Phoenix kept the core of that roster intact for the next season and added NBA All-Star Danny Manning to the lineup. Meanwhile, Jordan retired, weakening Chicago’s grip on the title. The Suns raced to a 30-6 start in 1993-94 but in early February, Manning was lost for the season to a torn ACL. They lost the Western Conference final to the eventual NBA champion Houston Rockets.
Are The Suns Cursed?
Teams don’t buy into curses and bad luck the way that fans do.
“It’s like anything else,” Suns coach Monty Williams told ABC15 of the loss of Paul. “There is a goal in front of us and we are focused on that and we are hoping and praying that we will be whole again.”