As the Suns got the better of their playoff matchup with the Lakers, it’s easy to get distracted in the demise of a champion. There are questions about LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and where the Lakers go from here.
Amid all the Los Angeles-centric chaos, though, there’s a brilliant team from Phoenix. This team ended an 11-year playoff drought. It’s a team led by a Hall of Fame veteran. It’s a team with elite young talent. There have been smart front office moves to pack the roster with impactful veterans.
The Phoenix Suns have been the NBA’s laughing stock. It all changed with their 8-0 bubble run, and it took another leap when Chris Paul arrived. Even the most optimistic about Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges didn’t see this team becoming a two seed and beating the Lakers, did they?
Paul got hurt (twice). Booker came up huge. Ayton was exceptional throughout. Jae Crowder and Mikal Bridges did an admirable job keeping LeBron James quiet, and the bench mob delivered solid defense and timely offense when required. Even with the Lakers banged up, winning this series in six was a serious achievement. Phoenix had their own problems to conquer. They overcame niggling injuries and inexperience.
Phoenix was an elite two-way team for much of the season. The defense dropped off towards the end of the campaign, raising fair questions ahead of the playoffs. This didn’t last long, though, as they proved a stubborn defensive unit against the Lakers.
Suns fix themselves
Williams has built an environment where players excel in their roles. This is also a trend which has followed Paul. He elevates the games of others, in part because he simplifies what they have to do. Ayton isn’t trying to be Joel Embiid. Booker doesn’t need to be Luka Doncic. They play slow, but not because they can’t find a shot. This is a well-coached, organized team which could go deep into this postseason if Paul gets healthy.
The Lakers are always the story. That’s been multiplied many times over since LeBron arrived. Big markets and big names always draw the attention. That’s the way the world works, and it’s fine. In the maze of Lakers coverage, though, it’s sometimes easy to forget about the team who are celebrating.
Phoenix isn’t the smallest market. And this isn’t some underdog story. What it is, though, is a seminal moment for a franchise which has been through more than its fair share of pain. The NBA’s trademark drama is what sells, and it’s a part of what makes it such a captivating league to follow, but sport is about winning. Sport is about overcoming adversity. That’s what the Suns have done.
Whatever happens against the Nuggets, this has been a wonderful season for Phoenix. They could yet win the championship. Things have fallen into place for them if Paul can get back to his regular season best.
Don’t overlook the achievements of Booker, Paul and co. This is not a fluke win. It’s just result for a franchise which has turned itself around from the front office to the hardwood.