Favored Suns — Brook Lopez! — Shaq’s streak ends

Friday, July 2nd, 2021

  The Opening Tip

  • Brook Lopez turned into Shawn Kemp last night. 
  • The greatest streak in playoff basketball is over.
  • The people have spoken on the smug deer vs. knee-padded hawk debate.

This weekend's playoff game

1. This time, there might be no team of destiny to stop the Suns

The Phoenix Suns have a long history of supreme competence. Before the 2010s, they had made the playoffs in 29 of their first 42 seasons.

They also have a long history of being the other team in the highlight reel of the greatest moments for other teams.

To recap:

  • In 1976, after Ricky Sobers punched Rick Barry in the face, thus spurring Phoenix to its first NBA Finals, the Suns and Celtcs played in The Greatest Game Ever, a triple-overtime Game 5 at the Garden, which Boston won, 128-126. The Celtics clinched the title in Game 6. 
  • In 1993, after trading for Charles Barkley and winning 62 games en route to the NBA Finals, the Suns served as valiant whipping boys for Chicago’s first iconic three-peat. There was MJ’s 55-point game and John Paxson's 3 to win the Finals. There was a runner-up trophy for Phoenix. 
  • In 1994 and 1995, with Jordan busy playing baseball, the Suns twice went up 2-0 on the Rockets, then lost both series in seven games. Houston went on to win the title both seasons. 
  • From 2005-2010, the Suns had a two-time MVP in Steve Nash and a revolutionary team and somehow never even reached the Finals. There was always something: Joe Johnson’s face injury in 2005; the “hip-check game;” Tim Duncan’s 3-pointer; Ron Artest’s putback game-winner

The franchise has been defined by decades and decades of great players with nothing to show for it -- until this 2020-21 NBA season, when Chris Paul showed up, Devin Booker ascended, Monty Williams coached his ass off, everyone besides the Suns got injured, and the title window improbably swung wide open.

[READ: Chris Paul finally has a chance to redefine his legacy]

2. Daily GIFJust get out of his way!

The Eastern Conference Finals has been reduced to the Giannis-less Bucks vs. the Trae Young-less Hawks, which has put a damper on a series threatening to be a classic.

One nice wrinkle, though, was Brook Lopez turning into a hybrid of Tyson Chandler and Shawn Kemp last night.

He scored 33 points in Milwakee’s Game 5 win, a total that included a 14-of-18 shooting mark on zero made 3s and six dunks. All but four of his field goal attempts came within 10 feet of the rim.

The Bucks are now a Game 6 win on Saturday from advancing to their first NBA Finals since 1974. Whether or not Giannis will be available for it is still a mystery.

[READ: The Bucks remind us they’re more than Giannis]

3. Trivia time

The Suns are the third team since 2010 to make the NBA Finals despite not making the playoffs the season before.

Who are the other two?

Answers at the bottom.

4. Pour one out for Shaq’s improbable Finals streak

If you’re like us, weird and mind blowing sports stats get you out of bed in the morning. No others affirmed our love of the NBA like the Shaq-NBA Finals one.

It goes … every NBA Finals since the 1984 Finals has included at least one one-time teammate of Shaq’s.

Well … the streak is now over. We must update the stat to say that … every Finals from 1984 to 2020 included a one-time teammate of Shaq’s.

It started with Greg Kite in the 1984 Finals (Kite is pictured above -- he’s the one that isn’t Kareem) and ended on Wednesday night when Rajon Rondo and the Clippers were eliminated from the Western Conference Finals by the Suns.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile, because it happened.

Also: NBA podcaster Tas Melas laid out the stat in visual form in a big spreadsheet. Enjoy.

5. The results are in: You pea brains actually think the knee-padded hawk would beat the smug deer

On Tuesday, we put out a poll asking a simple question: Who would win in a fight -- the smug deer which represented the 1971 title-winning Bucks, or the knee-padded hawk representing the 1958 title-winning Hawks? 

  • First of all ... thank you to all who voted. Your engagement means the world to us.
  • Secondly … how in the name of niche retro NBA logo content did the majority of you pick the hawk?  

That deer has opposable thumbs, a thought process and antlers to protect from aerial attacks. He can spin a basketball and dress himself. What does the hawk, lower-body protection?!

... 

Anyways, the people have spoken. And we will respect the results. 

(You can make your case for the hawk here.)

6.  Quick hits

  • Jrue Holiday last night: 25 points, 13 assists, this strip of Lou Williams.
  • Bobby Portis last night: 22 points, 8 rebounds. Here’s how he gets pumped for big games.
  • Reggie Jackson, on the Clippers this season: “First thing I told those guys is, ‘Thank you for saving me.’”
  • Jae Crowder is on his second straight NBA Finals team. Since the 2017 postseason, he has played in 71 playoff games.   
  • Pat Beverely pushed Chris Paul in the final moments of Game 6. (No one deserves to be shoved, but CP3 is somewhat shovable.)
  • We love a big fella chugging a beer and ripping his shirt off.

7.  Reads

  • The Clippers are at a crossroads: Run it back or blow it up? [The Ringer]
  • Congrats to Mike Budenholzer on not being fired [Defector]
  • This year’s NBA champion will bring a title to a cursed sports city [FiveThirtyEight]
  • Name, Image, and Likeness rules brought to you by fireworks [Yahoo Sports College Podcast]

Trivia answer: 2014-15 Cavaliers, 2019-20 Heat.


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Thanks for reading the 288th edition of The Grip.

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