The surprising story of the 2013-14 NBA regular season has all but come to an end. Although the enjoyable Phoenix Suns thrilled fans all year long with high flying alley oops, fun fast breaks, streaky 3-point shooting and a lovable cast of misfits and underdogs, their playoff hopes came to a crashing half in the form of the Memphis Grizzlies, a Fairy Godmother that was in no mood to extend Cinderella’s curfew past midnight.
With a 4-0 season sweep of the Suns, the Grizzlies secured the West’s final playoff spot and you have to give them tons of credit; they came in to a packed US Airways Center and beat a desperate Phoenix team on the second night of a back-to-back. Zach Randolph led Memphis with 32 points (15-of-25 shooting) and nine rebounds, Mike Miller added 21 points off the bench, Marc Gasol added 18 and Mike Conley scored 10 of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to sink the Suns.
Markieff Morris led all Phoenix scorers with 21 points, Channing Frye had 14 and a hobbled Goran Dragic put up 14 points, six rebounds, five steals and four assists. Eric Bledsoe had 13 points, but the Super Slash Brothers went a combined 12-for-30 from the floor. It was an epic slugfest down the stretch, but for the third time in as many games, the Suns just couldn’t get the job done against a quality playoff caliber team in a fourth quarter that saw 15 lead changes.
The Suns weren’t supposed to win 25 games, much less compete for a playoff spot in the insanely competitive West. Amazing season, Phoenix.
— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 15, 2014
You could look at plenty of different places if you’re looking for someone to blame. The Dragon committed two crucial turnovers in the game’s final minutes and if it weren’t for that bum ankle, who knows how these last three games might have played out? Bledsoe didn’t really turn it on last night until it was too late. Gerald Green, who busted his butt for weeks off the bench to keep the Suns’ offense going, was just 2-for-4 from the field for seven points. The Suns also shot 5-for-26 from 3-point range after shooting 37 percent on the season. And that’s without mentioning a recent loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Bledsoe’s knee injury that sidelined him for 30-plus games or the unshakably unfair fact that the Phoenix Suns play in the loaded Western Conference instead of the laughably weak Eastern Conference.
But pinpointing every little thing that went wrong last night, or during the whole regular season in general, would be missing the point of what made the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns so fun. This was a team expected to tank, a team that everyone thought would be competing with the Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record in the league. But after the Suns nailed their new general manager hire with Ryan McDonough, they also nailed their head coaching hire with Jeff Hornacek. From there, a team with a surprising start revealed itself to be more than an early season fluke.
Miles Plumlee showed he has a promising future in just his second year in the league. Gerald Green threw his name in the ring for the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year Award by having his finest season as a professional yet, thrilling fans not only with his ability to heat up in a hurry but his high-flying dunks and his all-around intensity and passion for the game. Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris became efficient bench players with Keef revealing himself as a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Plus, improvements among returnees. Tucker (deserves more attention), Dragic, Markieff Morris, return of Frye. Roster-wide progress.
— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) April 15, 2014
It doesn’t stop there. Ish Smith showed his speed and high energy can almost make up for his complete lack of a perimeter jump shot. Rookie Alex Len showed signs of his potential once he got healthy. P.J. Tucker did his thing on the defensive end and knocked down a ton of corner threes. Channing Frye was another happy story, serving as one part of one of the league’s most effective pick-and-roll duos in the league after missing the entire 2012-13 season with a heart condition. If you can name a team that saw more roster-wide progress this season, I’d love to hear about them.
But of course, we can’t mention the surprising Suns without talking about how magnificent the Super Slash Brothers were all year long. Many wondered how Dragic and Bledsoe would work together and many assumed Phoenix planned to deal the Dragon when the Suns traded for Bledsoe. But the two worked together better than anyone expected, with both taking huge steps in their best NBA seasons yet. Bledsoe emerged as a future star and delivered on all that potential while Dragic submitted a season that should have resulted in an All-Star spot and should nab him some votes for Most Improved Player of the Year and an All-NBA spot.
So heads up, Suns fans. This was a season to remember, even if the storybook playoff ending never came to fruition. Consider this: in the 2012-13 season, only six teams in the West won 47 games. This year that number is nine, and the Phoenix Suns were one of them. If the Suns played in the East, they’d be the No. 5 playoff seed. And as long as the Phoenix Suns are able to resign Bledsoe in the offseason, the future for this young and talented team is very bright indeed.
Phoenix has the non-Pop COY, 11,000 draft picks, two stud guards and a world of talent. Future is solar. Outstanding season, Phoenix.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) April 15, 2014