Photo: Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports
The Phoenix Suns could only wonder what could have been after watching Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks celebrate their first NBA championship since 1971 on Tuesday night. Certainly, Suns point guard Chris Paul had to.
The Suns looked poised to win the NBA championship after being up 2-0 in the NBA Finals. Then, the Bucks won four straight to win the NBA championship. They got the job done with a 105-98 Game 6 victory over the Suns at Fiserv Forum.
It conjured memories of the 1994 New York Knicks. They took a 3-2 lead over the Houston Rockets heading to Game 6. They were five minutes away from winning a championship in Game 6, but they struggled to score in the final five minutes and Hakeem Olajuwon deflected John Starks’ 3-point attempt that helped the Rockets survive a 86-84 victory over the Knicks and take it to Game 7. In Game 7, Starks scored eight points on 2-of-18 shooting as he shot the Knicks out of the game and the Rockets went on to deny the Knicks a championship by winning 90-84 for their first championship.
The Rockets celebrated their first championship in franchise history. The Knicks could only wonder what could have been. They knew they blew it by not finishing off the Rockets in Games 6 and 7.
Knicks fans still are rueing what could have been 27 years later. It’s been 48 years and counting since the Knicks won a championship. 1994 served as the team’s best shot, and the Knicks may not have that opportunity ever again.
Knicks fans might have muttered welcome to their world after the Suns and their fans were denied Game 7 and a championship.
The Suns and their fans will have all offseason and many years to think about a blown opportunity in this year’s NBA Finals. It was the team’s best shot to win it all, and they failed. That’s what history will remember them for. Just like history remembering the ‘94 Knicks for not finishing the job.
Regrets can be powerful and hurtful. It can haunt a franchise and its fans forever and ever.
If the Suns can’t win a championship with everything aligning their way, when will they? This was their best team. They beat the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers that lost their best players. They won’t get that opportunity every year. Luck won’t be in their way every year. When opportunities like that come, they need to strike. There’s a good chance they won’t have that opportunity next year with the Clippers and Lakers out to play with something to prove. The Western Conference teams will continue to get better.
I get the big picture. The Suns leaped to the NBA Finals after missing the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. That’s something to be proud of. But teams and players are judged by championships whether it’s fair or not. It’s hard to win a championship, to begin with, so a missed opportunity hurts for the Suns.
This season should be bittersweet. It’s the way it ends for teams that fall short of their goals. The Suns expected to win it all, and they did not. They were not happy to be there like the 2002 Nets and the 1999 Knicks.
Watching the Suns on Tuesday night brought memories of the Knicks Game 7 of the 1994 NBA Finals. Paul played the role of Patrick Ewing by coming up small and Devin Booker played the role of Starks by shooting the Suns out of the game. The Suns couldn’t get an important shot at an important moment in the fourth quarter just like the Knicks couldn’t on that ill-fated June Wednesday night in 1994.
If the Suns laid it on the line and still lost, they could have lived with it. They didn’t, and that’s why there should be regrets. It’s a good bet Paul and Booker feel that way. They know they failed the Suns.
Maybe Booker gets a shot again since he is only 24 years old in his prime. Deandre Ayton is 22 years old, so maybe he will get another shot if he continues his trajectory from the playoffs outside of the NBA Finals. Paul is another story, though. He is 36 years old. He has too much mileage as it is, and he tends to get hurt often in the playoffs. He may not get this opportunity like he had this year. For him to come up small from Game 3 to the rest of the series, this is something that will haunt him.
Paul will give it a go in continuing his dream. He should. But there’s no guarantee he will get this opportunity again.
Shoot, Booker and Ayton may not get that again.
Antetokounmpo doesn’t have to deal with those worries. He won a championship, and you figure he may win two or three before all is said and done. Even if he settles with only one championship, at least he can go to the Hall of Fame with a championship on his resume. No one can rip him, even if Fox Sports 1 troll Skip Bayless will come up with creative ways just to make himself and his Undisputed show relevant.
There should be no regrets for the Bucks, either. They got it done after taking advantage of the Nets losing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant’s shoe size cost him a game-winning, 3-pointer shot that would have given the Nets a Game 7 series win over them
The ‘94 Knicks are beloved in New York, but Knicks fans and critics don’t forget about their team’s inability to get it done in the Finals that year, too. As great of a star Ewing was for the Knicks, people knock him for not winning a championship on his resume. He blew his opportunity in 1994.
You can bet critics will say the same thing about this year’s Suns and Paul.
You know the saying about misery loves company? The ‘94 Knicks and this year’s Suns team can share war stories forever about what could have been along with their fanbase.