Favorite Game Friday: A Satisfying Salute to End the NAZ Suns Season

By Jacob Withee | November 13, 2020

Typically the end of a season for non-playoff teams can drag on a bit, with sights set on offseason vacation plans, or more simply, sights set on a physical reset after a six-month grind. The end of the Northern Arizona Suns’ 2017-18 season was the complete opposite. Instead of sloppy basketball in front of checked out fans, elite basketball was played in front of a record crowd to cap off a full day of fun.

The NAZ Suns hosted their first ever Salute to Heroes Night on March 24, 2018, the 50th and final game of their 2017-18 campaign. They faced off against the Sioux Falls Skyforce at the Prescott Valley Event Center (later dubbed the Findlay Toyota Center).

In Prescott Valley, community and respect trump most everything else, and who deserves more respect than veterans and first responders? The NAZ Suns wanted to honor all those of the like in the quad-city area and changed their jerseys for the game to get a good buzz going.

To make the day more special, the Suns hosted a pregame event. From 2-5:30 p.m. outside of the arena, there were first responder and military displays, live music by The Cheektones Band, a Phoenix International Raceway pace care on display, a bounce house, face painting, pony rides, barbecue and beverages.

To add to the busy day, the Town of Prescott Valley renamed a street in the NAZ Suns honor with a ceremony. Just north of the arena, the street formerly known as Sundogs Blvd. that intersects Glassford Hill Rd. became NAZ Suns Way. Prescott Valley Mayor Harvey Skoog, Prescott Valley Town Council members, the NAZ Suns front office, the NAZ Suns coaching staff, media members and fans attended the ceremony.

If that wasn’t enough action for a pregame event, the Northern Arizona Suns’ mascot proved no one can match what he provides. Buckets arrived for the game in a helicopter. Wait, let us elaborate – Buckets was the pilot for said-helicopter, as he flew himself to the arena, landing in the parking lot.

The pregame event ended with massive success, as fans excitedly entered the doors for the regular season finale between the Suns and Skyforce. To kick off the night, a special national anthem took place with a color guard featuring Prescott Valley Police, Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority Honor Guard.

Finally, the game itself. The Suns came out fresh in their camouflage jerseys with purple, orange and gray as the colors, but it was the Skyforce who came out ready to play, as Sioux Falls jumped out to a 17-point lead. Future Northern Arizona Suns guard Ike Nwamu had nine of his game-high 32 points in the opening frame, as he extended his then-team record setting season for three-point makes.

Like the night before against the Skyforce, the Suns started slow and erupted in the second quarter. Peter Jok made an everlasting mark as a Suns player with 16 points in the second quarter on perfect shooting (5-5 FG, 2-2 3PT, 4-4 FT), en route to a 44-25 Suns’ advantage in the frame and a 71-63 lead at halftime.

The game stayed relatively close throughout the second half, with the Suns maintaining around an eight-point lead most of the way. The Suns led 130-121with 1:54 remaining before Sioux Falls exploded for a 12-1 run to take a two-point lead. Archie Goodwin saved it for NAZ with a driving layup to tie it back up with 17.6 seconds left, and the Suns clamped down on defense to bring a record crowd free basketball.

In overtime, Phoenix Suns assignment player Alan Williams had one of the most memorable moments by a NAZ Suns player, complemented by one of the most memorable calls in NAZ Suns history by play-by-play extraordinaire Jon Bloom. With the game tied at 135 and less than 20 seconds remaining, Williams, aka Big Sauce, got an offensive rebound, put it in and was fouled, completing the three-point play that would prove to be the game-winning sequence.

With the win, the Suns improved to 23-27 on the year, the most wins they’ve ever had in a season, finishing above .500 at home with a 13-12 record. Seven Suns finished with 12+ points, six Suns scored 15+ points, and three Suns had double-doubles, all three recording 11+ rebounds. Williams led the way with 25 points on 11-of-20 shooting, 12 rebounds and three blocks. Jok finished with 22 points (7-9 FG, 4-4 3PT, 4-4 FT) off the bench. Goodwin recorded 19 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, and Danuel House just missed out on a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

The Suns finished with 744 three-point makes on the season, the most in the league in 2017-18, and the fourth most in one season in NBA G League history.

After the game, the Suns auctioned off their game-worn jerseys, and thanks to the fans, the team raised over $7,500 for the Prescott Valley Police Foundation.

This marks our first “Favorite Game Friday” and it is the most fitting, as it provided a packed day of activities for fans, a meaningful drive for donations, a new look for the team, and a thrilling game that ended in oh-so-thrilling fashion.