Who would have thought?
The Phoenix Suns are back in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 when Charles Barkley led the team there but ultimately lost against Michael Jordan. Nobody predicted the Devin Booker-led Suns squad making it as far as the 2021 playoffs. And yet, Coach Monty Williams steered Phoenix to the championship round.
Playing Game Six of the Western Conference Finals in Staples Center, the Phoenix Suns rose to the occasion in the second half, en route to a dramatic 130-103 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Not only did it send the Clippers to yet another playoff exit, but it also allowed Chris Paul to finally reach the championship series for the first time in his 16-year career. He exploded for 41 points, eight assists, and three steals in 35 minutes of play in the series-clinching Game Six victory. Devin Booker had 22 points, while Deandre Ayton added 16 points and 17 rebounds.
And yet, the Suns used to be nowhere close to being a championship contender.
A Healthier Team
Injuries hit this year’s playoffs.
Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers
Jamal Murray of the Denver Nuggets
Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers
All three teams lost to a healthier Suns side.
Yes, Chris Paul missed the first two games of the West Finals after entering the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Yes, Devin Booker is dealing with a nose injury. And yet, the Suns came out as the healthier team from the Western Conference. In this injury-plagued postseason, the healthier team wins it all.
Booker averaged 25 points, five rebounds, and four assists in the Western Conference Finals, while CP3 normed 24 points and eight assists in four games.
It also didn’t help the Clippers’ case that Deandre Ayton averaged 17 points and 13 rebounds against the team that was missing Ivica Zubac in the final two games of the series.
If there’s one advantage that the Suns will have against either of the last two teams from the Eastern Conference, it’s health.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s status for Game Five is still in question, and so is that of Trae Young. Either way, Phoenix has the advantage. Why?
Should the Milwaukee Bucks make it to the NBA Finals, who will defend Devin Booker? Or the better question is: who will contain Deandre Ayton?
Should the Atlanta Hawks somehow make it out, do they have enough pieces to chase Chris Paul even if Trae Young is good to go?
The CP3 Effect
It has been said many times and, it will be said again: CP3 elevates any team he plays in.
There’s a reason why many hail him as the “Point God”: he is good at what he does at the point guard position.
Even at 36, CP3 affects both his teammates and opponents.
CP3 makes Deandre Ayton better just by his playmaking abilities and his leadership. CP3 also makes the perfect mentor for Devin Booker. For the opponents, CP3 has his ways to get on the nerves of opposing players. Look at what happened to Patrick Beverley and DeMarcus Cousins.
A Perfect Ending to a Legendary Career
Chris Paul is already on his final playing years in the NBA. A championship win will cement his legacy as one of the best point guards to ever play the game. It’s like a fairy tale ending.
This would be a perfect ending to a playoff run that saw Phoenix eliminate the Lakers, who were aiming a back-to-back, the Denver Nuggets and the MVP, Nikola Jokic, and the Clippers of Kawhi Leonard and Paul Geroge.
It would highlight a season where nobody predicted they would do wonders. And yet, they did.