We’ve heard the expression lighting in a bottle before. Sure. But how about lightning in a bubble? Didn’t think so. The Phoenix Suns’ success this season can be traced back to July 30th in the NBA bubble. It was not without its ridicule, however.
Among the nine NBA Western Conference teams that entered the bubble, Phoenix were dead last and six games back of the Memphis Grizzlies who occupied the final playoff spot. What they did in the bubble was nothing short of heroic failure.
Phoenix Suns results 2021
Phoenix won every single one of their eight games, only just about falling short from entering the play in tournament.
In the moment, the Suns knew they grew as a team down in Orlando, but they also knew they needed a special type of player to take them up a level…
The Chris Paul Equation
Chris Paul is playing at an MVP level right now. His integral role in propelling the Suns atop of the league standings runs contrary to father time, rather his exploits will give Phoenix considerable food for thought on a contract extension.
It has been remarkable to see Paul’s blueprint all over the team. Exhibit A: last year Phoenix ranked 9th in pace (101.71) whereas now they are 26th (97.87). Exhibit B: Phoenix has the best assist to turnover ratio (2.11) among playoff teams in both conferences. Exhibit C: Suns lead the Western Conference in field goal percentage (49%).
Watching the Chris Paul career arc since his last days as a member of the LA Clippers until now has been absolutely fascinating. His final season as a Clipper was a pain for everyone involved. His relationship with head coach Doc Rivers turned sour, as did his relationship with Blake Griffin.
Traded to Houston ahead of the 2017-18 season, the team ended up winning 65 games and were one game away from defeating the Golden State Warriors in the Conference Finals, until Paul suffered a hamstring injury which turned the series. His one year run in Oklahoma City in 2019-20 was a Rolls-Royce performance year from the point god. OKC headed into that season primarily to tank it away, however, with Chris Paul steadying the ship, they finished as the fifth seed in the Western Conference. Long story short: Chris Paul makes every team better. Period. End of story.
Playing under head coach Monty Williams (coached Paul in NOLA) and alongside Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Torrey Craig, Paul has helped amplify the talent around him. Booker is playing winning basketball and will potentially earn all-NBA honours, whilst head coach Williams is in the running for Coach of the Year.
Championship aspirations in The Valley
Entering the home stretch of the NBA regular season, the Suns will believe they can make it to the finals. They have won their last five games, including wins over the Clippers and the Utah Jazz. Both wins were statement of intents.
The win versus a Clippers team that were gunning for the second seed was impressive. Having lost the field goal percentage battle and being outscored in points in the paint, the Suns dwarfed the Clippers in offensive rebounding. Keeping alive second chance opportunities, as well as turning the ball over less frequently, provided Phoenix with the foundation to keep their heads above water in a tightly contested fourth quarter.
If the Suns’ win over the Clippers showed they were not prepared to relinquish the second seed, their win over the Jazz demonstrated Phoenix wants the number one seed. In their 121-100 win over Utah, Phoenix’s first quarter effort closed the deal on any potentially tight contest. Granted there was no Donavan Mitchell for Utah, Phoenix starting the game like a house on fire (or a phoenix rising from the ashes) is further proof that this team is all business.
Here come the Suns
Phoenix will go into the playoffs, for the first time since 2010, without any fear.
They have shown in their matchups against top level teams in the West that they can compete. The offseason addition of Jae Crowder cannot be understated. The wing defender is shooting 38% from deep this season and his fit alongside Booker and Paul has been seamless.
Deandre Ayton is having a fun year this time round. Picked number one overall in 2018 in a draft class that included Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Trae Young, Ayton is often viewed through the prism of his draft peers, instead of his own talents. His usage is at its lowest at any point of his NBA career (18.6%), however his defensive his impact improved significantly (3.1 defensive win shares compared to 1.6 last season).
This season has already been a success. Monty Williams will no doubt keep the roster as focused as possible as the season dwindles down, and the playoffs begin. Suns fans have ben through the mire in the last decade. Now, like the Phoenix rises from the ashes, so will the fans expectations of what this group can truly achieve.