Last year, the Suns joked they had to win five of seven games to beat the Lakers in the first-round series when they felt they were robbed of one victory by officiating.
This year, they go into tonight's must-win game at San Antonio feeling as though they were given only six chances to find four wins in the Western Conference semifinal series.
As valiant as Wednesday's Game 5 effort was with essentially a six-man unit, Suns coach Mike D'Antoni called it a "throwaway game" because they would rather recapture the fully manned momentum of Game 4's victorious road rally for Game 6 tonight at AT&T Center.
"Our team was interrupted," Suns co-captain Steve Nash said. " . . . We're just excited to have the opportunity to fight for our championship still."
The Suns found two reasons for confidence sitting with them in their Thursday pre-practice meeting. Amaré Stoudemire and Boris Diaw were back, and San Antonio's Robert Horry remains suspended for tonight's game.
"There were no psychological scars," D'Antoni said of a Game 5 loss when the Spurs raced by a Suns squad running on fumes. "We're not down. We're probably more determined than ever."
Phoenix will have to take down the league's best close-out team in recent history to pull it off. When San Antonio has been within a victory of winning a series, the Spurs have gone 11-2 in the past five postseasons. The Spurs are made for these moments with maturity, discipline and clutch players, but the two failed close-out chances happened in the past two postseasons.
San Antonio Media attacked by Phoenix fans …good work, Arizona…
Midway through the second half of last night's game at the U.S. Airways Center, the Suns' mascot, the Gorilla, fired rubber basketballs into the crowd. The gentlemen in the row behind us caught one of them. A few moments later, the ball somehow caromed off the side of the head of KSAT-TV sports reporter David Sears.
After a long staredown, he returned the ball to the gents.
A few moments later, however, the mood grew more contentious, with the men screaming down at the San Antonio media, and we just kept our heads down and kept watching the game. A reporter from the East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune, however, finally had enough. He took on the antagonists, exchanging loud threats and finally tracking down security with a complaint.
It was wild and woolly, the kind of atmosphere that crackles with animosity and tension. The Phoenix audience was painfully loud, booing incessantly every time the Spurs touched the ball. There were insulting signs and costumes, vitriolic chants and scuffles in the stands.
It was a ferocious atmosphere.
And it was an absolute blast.
When it was finally over, and the Spurs staged a superb rally and stole away the victory, the men behind me sat in their seats for a long time. They were hoarse from screaming and limp with exhaustion. They had bounced a basketball off David Sears, verbally raked Manu Ginobili, Bruce Bowen and the NBA hierarchy. They had been so robust that even their neighborhood media had sicced the cops on them.
"Well," one told me, "that was fun."
It was indeed.
Did I mention another Rangers loss? …By mandate of this blog, they must win 2 of 3 in Houston or spend all of next week as the very last story with no quotes – just the score - as punishment for their putrid excuse for baseball.
The Rangers suffered another one of those soul-testing losses that have accounted for most of the season Thursday. Delmon Young's 10th-inning walkoff homer gave Tampa Bay an 8-6 win and a sweep of the three-game series played at Disney's Wide World of Sports. It was the Rangers' sixth loss in the last seven games and dropped them dangerously close to having the worst record in the majors.
If Thursday's loss helps the Rangers at all, it will be because they saw some of the results of wearing down the opposing pitcher. They made the Devil Rays throw 230 pitches, the fifth-highest total by a Ranger club since 2002. Each of the higher totals was in a game of 12 innings or more.
The Rangers forced Tampa Bay starter Scott Kazmir out of the game after just four innings. They scored a run on that most exciting of plays: the bases-loaded walk. And they continually pressed the Devil Rays.
"If we had played like this from the start of the year, I don't think we'd be in this position," Washington said. "I feel for those guys. They are working their butts off out there. But things are going to happen here. The way they are playing, I really believe we are going to get on a roll."
Had it not been for that span of six consecutive swings and misses in the third inning by Sammy Sosa and Victor Diaz, the roll might have started Thursday. Sosa came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the third and went down swinging against Kazmir. Diaz followed with an almost identical at-bat.
Working the count allowed the Rangers to get to Kazmir like never before. Kazmir was forced from the game with 109 pitches after just four innings. Kazmir had worked six innings and allowed three or fewer runs in each start.
Giambi makes odd claims about steroids …
New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi says Major League Baseball should apologize to the public for its widespread performance-enhancing drug problem.
Claiming he's likely been tested for performance-enhancing drugs more often than anyone, Giambi told USA Today in a story on its Web site Friday that the apology is long overdue.
"Unfortunately, [the rumors] are going to be a part of it. But that's OK. I'm probably tested more than anybody else. I'm not hiding anything," Giambi told the newspaper. "That stuff didn't help me hit home runs. I don't care what people say, nothing is going to give you that gift of hitting a baseball."
"I was wrong for doing that stuff," Giambi said Wednesday before the Yankees played the Chicago White Sox. "What we should have done a long time ago was stand up players, ownership, everybody and said: 'We made a mistake.'
"We should have apologized back then and made sure we had a rule in place and gone forward. Steroids and all of that was a part of history. But it was a topic that everybody wanted to avoid. Nobody wanted to talk about it."
So, it doesn’t help you hit homeruns, Jason? Were you just trying to look more buff for the ladies?
Red Wings lose, we have a 2-2 series …
The Red Wings had an opportunity to put a stranglehold on the Ducks Thursday and couldn't do it.
Playing without arguably their best player, defenseman Chris Pronger, Anaheim evened the Western Conference finals with a 5-3 victory.
Ryan Getzlaf's power-play goal at 5:24 of the third period broke a tie and sent the Ducks to victory. Rob Niedermayer's empty-net goal ended the scoring.
Pronger was suspended for Game 4 after delivering a blow to the head of Tomas Holmstrom in Game 3.
Pronger will be back in the lineup for Game 5, set for 3 p.m. Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. Game 6 is back in Anaheim on Tuesday.
"We expected them to be better, it's a disappointing loss," Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek said. "Without Pronger, it was great motivation for them. We expected them to play better and they did. It was a frustrating game because we had more shots and chances probably."
FC Dallas beats Chicago! ...is there ever a bad time to do that?
A chippy game at Toyota Park saw Dallas get on the board early with a Kenny Cooper conversion of a controversial penalty. Abe Thompson set up a great strike from Juan Toja in the 60th minute to make it 2-0. Chicago had success running at the Hoops’ back line all night, and some brave attacking subs by Dave Sarachan pulled one back for the Fire in the 73rd minute. Justin Mapp and company were a little unlucky not to find the equalizer during a siege of the Dallas defense for around fifteen minutes late in the game. Eventually, the boys from North Texas wore down Chicago through counterattacking and the Hoops successfully defended their lead.
The big story entering the game for Dallas was the fact that Captain Carlos Ruiz was not even on the bench for the match. The official word was that he had to win his starting job back as the same team that won on the road against Kansas City Saturday night took the field. Ruiz was on the sideline looking like the last couple weeks have not been kind to him. Chicago was missing Diego Gutierrez due to suspension and Chris Rolfe due to an ankle injury he picked up against Toronto. Coach Sarachan started Calen Carr and French forward Pascal Bedrossian up top, while Chris Armas took Gutierrez’s holding midfield role. Thiago was on the bench, replaced by Ivan Guerrero in Chicago’s highly fluid midfield formation.
No Points Race this weekend in the Nextel Cup, Dale Jr’s questions to be answered …
Earnhardt is the most sought-after free agent in professional sports. It is unheard of for a driver to walk away from a solid, stable ride without another ride lined up. While hundreds of drivers are scrapping and clawing just to find -- or if they're lucky, maintain -- an opportunity, Earnhardt has his pick of opportunities.
And at the pinnacle, no less.
No driver in history has had so much leverage. Few athletes in history have had so much leverage.
It took Junior five years to quantify that. I'm not so sure he fully understands it yet. And it's really not as much about quantification as it is acceptance.
He finally accepts that he has that sort of power. And he'll soon have tangible evidence.
When a man can walk into a boardroom wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and with a straight face slide a sheet of paper across the table with whatever number he pleases, and be taken completely seriously, he has substantial power.
This isn't about money for Earnhardt, but he's going to make a mint. He'll have the highest salary of his career, possibly the highest in the sport's history. He owns the NASCAR licensing business, and that sea of red will migrate with him to his new destination.
He'll be able to activate business opportunities he had to shun in the past. He'll be in the best equipment of his life.
It's too bad that couldn't happen at DEI.
Speed Channel with all coverage of the All-Star Race …
Meanwhile, PPV only tomorrow for The FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Chelsea …
Make no mistake, while neither manager were particular interested in their penultimate Premiership result, the Cup final will be fought to the death. Both sides are chasing doubles, United the domestic double (Premiership and FA Cup), Chelsea the Cup double (Carling and FA). But it is not just about winning silverware, although it would help Mourinho's job security; pride is the key.
For all the consternation at Chelsea's failure to dominate the Champions League, despite investing £200million in the squad, it will be the loss of the Premiership that will hurt them the most. And, in fact, the FA Cup final is unfamiliar territory for the club - since they last won the competition in 2000.
It is a trophy that Mourinho has not yet won, and the Portuguese will be keen to add the achievement to his growing CV as he seeks to placate his title-hungry chairman, Roman Abramovich. For Ferguson, re-claiming the Premiership title will have given him the most satisfaction, but winning the FA Cup (which he has won five times in seven previous finals), will continue to feed his desire for success.
Claiming that he will continue to manage the club for the foreseeable future, it would be a fitting send off for the league's most successful manager, but will surely not be the Scotsman's last chance of glory. In truth, he would have preferred the Champions League, but to lead his side out in the historic first FA Cup final at the new Wembley will give him an enormous amount of satisfaction.
A Rare 1 vs. 2 FA Cup Final …
It might seem predictable that Manchester United and Chelsea are meeting at Wembley tomorrow, but it is only the third time in the competition’s history that the clubs finishing first and second in the league have also contested the FA Cup Final. The first occasion was in 1913, when Sunderland, crowned champions a week later, lost to Aston Villa; the second occurrence came in 1986, when Everton failed to gain revenge on Liverpool after being pipped to the league title by their neighbours.
Today’s Email of the Day:
As a Red Wing hater and as a Spurs hater, I can't help but see the similiarities between these two teams I hate so much. Both teams whine all the time, both teams get all the calls, and this week in staying true to form they both get the benfit of suspensions in key situations of star player on the opposing team. As a fan who hates these two teams, it sucks to see them get every call and it always seems as though the league offices play favorites for these teams. I'm sure its just seems that way because I can't stand to see these teams win.
Uncle Rico on the show today at 12:30pm
Unicorns to Leprechauns