Phoenix Suns: No Signs of a LeBron-Hangover in Game 1 Victory

Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns, Deandre Ayton (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

I will be honest, I wasn’t sure how the Suns would come out in Game 1 of their second-round series against the Denver Nuggets. There was the potential that they could come out flat after a very physical series against the Los Angeles Lakers. Dispatching LeBron James and the defending champions had to be quite a rush. Suns fans were certainly stoked.

It didn’t happen though. There was no letdown. No post-LeBron hangover. The Suns came out ready to play. Each and every Sun that stepped on the floor in Game 1 seemed ready to play. The intensity was there, the hustle was there, and most importantly, the execution was there.

Enthusiasm is great. Having players fired up and eager to play is what you hope for, but none of that matters if they are not executing.

Sometimes players can be so jacked up that they get sped up. They play too fast—faster than they are comfortable playing. When this occurs, they miss a shot they normally make, mishandle a ball they usually handle, or make dumb turnovers that they normally would not.

The Suns on the other hand came out in Game 1 against the Nuggets focused, sharp, and with that killer instinct we watched begin to ferment in their first round matchup with the Lakers.

That whole series changed in Game 3 when the Lakers built a big lead and then proceeded to start clowning on the Suns. All of LeBron’s foolish between the legs dribbles at the three-point line—apparently intended to antagonize Jae Crowder—didn’t work. At least not in LA’s favor.

In fact, it had the opposite effect. For lack of a better way of saying it, it just seemed to piss the Suns off. They might not admit it, but it did. They refused to be clowned on, especially after finishing the season with the second-best record in the league. Only until Andre Drummond started mimicking LeBron’s post moves from the bench did the Suns really seem to switch from nervous and hopeful to angry and determined. LeBron and company colossally screwed up.

In my opinion, that is where that series shifted. That is when the young Suns, under the leadership of mature playoff veterans Jae Crowder and Chris Paul, decided enough was enough. From that point on, with AD injured and LeBron clearly not being back to being LeBron, the Lakers really had no chance against Suns. Especially after Devin Booker got going.

But how would that momentum carry over into the Western Conference Semifinals? That was the question. Would the Suns come out playing the way they were playing in the Lakers series, or would they relax after the big win, and come out flat?

Well…we know the answer now. They certainly were not flat. They just played Phoenix Suns basketball. Sure, it wasn’t perfect. There were some silly turnovers early, and some defensive breakdowns, as the Suns kept the game relatively close until the fourth, but then Chris Paul did what he normally does. He stuck a dagger in Denver’s chest and twisted it, making sure that Joker and the Nuggets didn’t get up off the Game 1 mat. Paul finished with 21 points, 14 in the pivotal fourth quarter, nixing any ideas Mike Malone and the Nuggets had on coming back to steal Game 1 and home court advantage in the series.

What does this mean going forward? Does it really matter? I believe it does. I feel much more confident about Game 2 because of the way the Suns handled themselves in Game 1. At this point, the Suns look ready for the playoffs. They have adjusted to the intensity and the physicality of the playoffs, and they have very quickly developed a killer instinct. That bodes very well going forward.

Will the Suns come out flat and uninspired in Game 2? I doubt it. I think the chance for that has passed. Does that mean they won’t lose any more games or even a series in this year’s playoffs? No, not at all. It just means that they will not lose because they did not come out ready to play.

Anybody can lose a game at any time in the playoffs. A team gets hot shooting the three against you, and you can pick up an ‘L’ pretty quickly. However, if the Suns maintain the effort and intensity they have been playing with the last few games, I think they have a very, very good chance at making an NBA Finals appearance.

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Once there, can the Suns beat the Brooklyn Nets, who I think is the frontrunner to come out of the Eastern Conference? Do you want me to be honest? As much as I hate to admit it, I do not see anyone beating the Nets, barring significant injuries to their roster. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden are three of the best players in this league, each one capable of blowing up on you. I do not think the Suns have the firepower to keep up with the Nets. But you never know what could happen.

I can guarantee you one thing, I will be watching.