History has been unfair to the Phoenix Suns, the next rival of the Denver Nuggets and Facundo Campazzo. It is the seventh franchise with the best record in the NBA, with just over 51% of games won in its entire existence. And yet, he never even won a title. That black streak that basically extends throughout the entire life of the team is what Chris Paul is trying to break this season, Devin Booker and company.
From this Monday, those from the state of Arizona, second best classified in the always competitive West, will be measured in the conference semifinal with those from the state of Colorado (3rd), who have also failed to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy but are much further away in the ranking of most winning franchises (15th).
Last year, in the Orlando “bubble” that took place at the Disney facilities, there was an eight-game mini-regular phase to determine the last playoff finishers. Phoenix, who had a minimal mathematical chance and seemed to compete more for that than for a real chance, won all eight of his games and was the feeling of that brief span.
On those good feelings and without modifying too much the establishment built the franchise its immediate future. There was hardly a big move in the team of Monty williams: the transfer of point guard Chris Paul, then 10 times selected to the All-Star, 4 times the league’s best assistor, 6 times top stealer, and 9 times a member of the best defensive quintets.
To hire him, Phoenix handed over to Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio and a first-round draft pick. In view of the results, and despite the age of the guard (36 years), it sounds cheap. That was the first step to becoming a successful team (with more games won than lost in the season) for the first time since 2013. And to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
Chris Paul eliminated his friend LeBron James. AFP photo
The secret is that Paul he makes the teams he plays for better. The figures prove it. The Suns were coming off a win-loss record that closed at 34-39 in 2020. The 2019 record speaks for itself: 19-63. That team, who may well be considered “The last baseman” made him the second best in the entire NBA (51-21).
It’s the same thing he had done with Charlotte Hornets, who went from 22% wins to 43% in Paul’s first season. He had done it with the Los Angeles Clippers (from 39% to 60%). He had done it with the Houston Rockets (67% to 79%). And he had done it with the Oklahoma City Thunder (from 46% to 72%). Unquestionable.
Even having suffered in the series against the Lakers a blow to the shoulder that had him to abuse, it will be a tough nut to crack. You are experienced, talented, supportive and quite crafty, a game that likewise the Cordovan knows how to play and that does not escape him.
The coach Williams is responsible for having amalgamated a team that, based on the experience of its organizer, shows high intelligence to play, to choose the moments and the launches. It is the second best team in the NBA in terms of percentage of success with 2-point shots, occupies the same position with its free shots and is the seventh that best executes the triples, in addition to being the third that distributes the most assists. Namely: total team play.
But Paul is not the only star of the team, and the companions are young people who, in their first playoff experience, are showing that responsibility does not weigh on them at all. They come to get rid of none other than the champion, Los Angeles Lakers, and LeBron James.
It is true that the injuries complicated the defending champion a lot, but it is also true that the Suns knew how to finish the task with authority (and in the series they also suffered an injury from Paul).
The point guard, who averaged just over 16 points and almost 9 assists this season, is accompanied by three players whose youth does not seem so. The main offensive reference is Devin Booker (24 years old), who definitely became a star.
Devin Booker, the young great figure of the Suns. Reuters
The escort is the top scorer (25 points), being dangerous both in penetration and with a poisonous outside shot, but also with good reading to distribute the game when necessary.
Another highlight is the eaves Mikal bridges (24), who became not only an interesting and versatile scorer (13 points) but a player on the entire court (4.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists) and above all a great defender (almost 1 steal and 1 cover per night).
They complete the power forward Jae crowder, more veteran (he has 9 years in the NBA) and the pivot Deandre ayton, which despite the fact that it often seems limited, distracted and without too many lights, fulfills its mission of contributing to the boards by catching balls and scoring (14.4 points and 10.5 rebounds).
Houston Rockets, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors, Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings (as Rochester Royals), and Washington Wizards (as Bullets).
A long list, names are forgotten. They all have a worse win-loss record, but at least one title. That one that does not have Phoenix, an NBA history who returned to prominence and wants to give himself the great taste for the first time.
On the brink of feat
Steve Nash, symbol of the last great Suns, greets Manu Ginobili, executioner with the Spurs. Reuters photo
Born in the 1968/69 season, it took Phoenix just a few years to reach the NBA Finals. The first time was in 1976, when the team led by Paul Westphal and Alvan Adams (who was playing his first year in the league) reached the definition against the Boston Celtics. It was a 4-2 defeat.
In 1979 he reached the conference finals, again led by Westphal and Adams and also with Walter Davis, always under the guidance of the coach John MacLeod, just like the previous occasion.
He repeated in 1984, this time with Larry Nance as a figure, as well as in 1989 and 1990. These two opportunities were already with the coach Cotton fitzsimmons in the bank and Kevin Johnson and Tom Chambers like banners.
Westphal himself, now as coach, and a great team with Charles barkley definitely established as a star, but also with big names like the mentioned Chambers and Johnson more Dan Majerle, Richard Dumas and Danny Ainge (who just resigned from the Boston Celtics presidency of Operations) were the closest.
In the 1992/93 season, they reached the championship final, which they lost to none other than Michael Jordan’s Bulls.
The last great achievements of the team came with Mike D’Antoni and his “7 seconds or less” philosophy in which he tried to attack the rim as soon as possible. In 2005 and 2006, under the leadership of twice-in-a-row MVP Steve Nash, the team reached the conference finals, losing the first to Manu Ginobili’s San Antonio Spurs and the second to the Mavericks of Dirk Nowitzki.
They last repeated in 2010, with Alvin gentry in the bank and Amar’e Stoudemire at its best.