The Phoenix Suns Are Going to the NBA Finals, How Did We Get Here?

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns are headed to the NBA Finals, write that one down five times over. After putting the Los Angeles Clippers to bed last night, beating them 130-103 in Game 6, the Suns took that final step in ascending to the Western Conference’s throne, ending a 28-year drought.

Still missing Kawhi Leonard and Ivica Zubac, Phoenix saw the Clippers leaning on the ropes once again, this time throwing their knockout punch with urgency and absoluteness. They only trailed for a brief moment during the game’s first quarter, but then asserted their dominance after that, keeping their foot firmly planted on the gas until the buzzer, and the Los Angeles fans surrounding them, fell silent for a final time.

Ending a Finals drought for himself, or more accurately—dissolving a once-thought lifelong restraining order, Chris Paul refused to even let this one become a contest, tying a playoff career high with 41 points. He also became the fourth player ever to score 40+ points while never turning the ball over during a Conference Finals game, joining Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Hakeem Olajuwon.

Led by Jae Crowder, who finished with 19 points and five made shots from outside, the Suns enjoyed their best 3-point shooting night all postseason, hitting at 54.8 percent clip. That absolutely shell-shocked the Clippers, even leaving the red-hot Reggie Jackson and lethal Paul George with nothing to do but eat their dust.

Unable to contain their excitement, a reaction very expected and quite warranted, the Suns danced across their opponent’s hardwood once the game reached its end. After that point, there were indeed no more parties in LA.

But despite the excitement still oozing out from last night’s victory, it only came as an end point to a story started long ago. Until things blossomed this year, the Suns formerly looked like a dead-end franchise, so much to the point that Marty McFly might want to travel back in time yet again to throw some money on them.

Everyone always enjoys and raves about the finished product, but the moves made to ensure that product’s success often become overlooked. As far as boring cliches go, the “journey over destination” one might carry the most legitimacy. So to truly relish this moment, Suns fans need to acknowledge all that happened before it.

Phoenix Suns: Summer 2020 and COVID-19

Even briefly recalling anything with the year 2020 attached to it feels like an unpleasant errand to recommend, but while the world closed down its doors and blanketed itself up with masks during the pandemic, our Suns began laying the groundwork for their great conquest.

While the league pieced together a plan to restart and finish the NBA season, the Suns took up their own reconstructive efforts, looking to solidify their roster and make postseason push in the NBA’s “bubble” despite their current stance outside the playoff picture. That started when the team signed the once-thought lottery bust Cameron Payne on June 30, 2020.

Today we see Payne as our incredibly valuable sixth man, absolutely necessary to Phoenix’s success this year. But back then, we signed him to a minimum contract, making him this team’s best investment in recent memory. He averaged 10.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, and shot 51.7 percent from deep during his bubble-run, certainly proving himself worth holding onto.

Speaking of the bubble, it was here where the Suns collectively began to illustrate their conference-threatening potential and build confidence as a group. As earlier mentioned, the Suns sat several games removed from the playoffs once entering the bubble. They ended up failing to qualify, missing out by a half game, but still emerged as nation-wide story with their incredible play.

During the restart, Phoenix won all eight games played, lead primarily by Devin Booker, who finally earned some long overdue respect as an esteemed NBA star. Booker and the Suns started this run with their first game against the Washington Wizards on July 31, 2020, winning 125-112. Booker finished with 27 points, five rebounds, and four assists.

His most memorable effort though came on August 4, 2020 though, when he hit a falling away buzzer-beater to knock off, you guessed it…the Los Angeles Clippers. Talk about foreshadowing.

Booker finished that night with 35 points, going 6-9 from the field. He reached the 35-point mark three more times after that game, and although it failed to propel the Suns into the playoffs, it put them on notice for the first time since the Steve Nash era, and showed the front office their readiness to compete.

Phoenix Suns: 2020 Offseason

This is the big one. After watching him thrive with a young, hungry Oklahoma City Thunder team during the prior season, the Suns stepped up and exchanged Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque, and a 2022 first-round pick for Chris Paul on November 16. 2020. The trade reunited CP3 with Monty Williams, his coach from his days as a New Orleans Hornet, and quickly made the Suns a team expected by most to make the postseason for the first time in over a decade.

To their credit though, the Suns kept building. The Suns resigned Dario Saric on November 18. 2020, solidifying their front court behind Deandre Ayton. Saric added seven points last night, even going 2-2 from outside. He remains a solid, floor-spacing big likely to play a role down the line.

On November 28, 2020, the Suns next signed Crowder, who just came off a run to the Finals with the Miami Heat. Crowder, who stepped up huge last night with Cameron Johnson unable to play, scored the team’s third most points behind Booker and Paul. He not only saw Phoenix’s potential before most did, but continues to add to it tremendously.

Phoenix Suns: 2020-21 Regular Season

The Suns undoubtedly lived up to their expectations once the regular season tipped off. Starting the new year, the Suns already owned a 5-1 record by January 1, 2021, making it their best start since 2009, when they last made the Conference Finals. Again, holy foreshadowing.

But the NBA as a whole though endured a rocky start with COVID-19 still effecting the country, causing them to postpone three game January games for the Suns, who finished the month with a 10-8 record. However, the team caught fire shortly after.

Starting with a matchup on February 1, 2021 against the Dallas Mavericks, the Suns won seven of their next eight contests. Booker hit a clutch 3-pointer with less than two seconds to play, edging the Mavs that night and delivering one of his many signature moments from the season.

After that streak, the Suns then won another seven of eight games, including a 100-91 victory over the Boston Celtics on February 7, 2021, a game where Suns fans were able to return to the arena for the first time since pandemic’s outbreak. The Suns then raced towards the All-Star break with a 24-11 record and first place position in the Pacific Division, even atop the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

One month later on April 7, 2021, the Suns battled the Utah Jazz, with the contest carrying that always entertaining “playoff feel” given Utah’s minimal first-place lead over the Suns at the time. It went down as a real “statement win” for Phoenix, with them topping Utah in overtime 117-113. Booker and Paul combined for 64 points to hold off an offensive onslaught from Donovan Mitchell, who scored 41 all by himself.

Shortly after on April 10, 2021, the Suns took down the Washington Wizards 134-106, simultaneously securing their first winning season since their 2013-14 campaign. It came as a welcome sight for Phoenix fans, who were lucky enough to witness the page turning event on their own floor.

Roughly three weeks after that on April 28, 2021, the Suns took down the Clippers again by a 109-101 score, clinching a long-elusive playoff berth, their first one since 2010. After an incredibly successful season that saw them finish with the West’s second highest seed and a 51-21 record, the Suns were back where they belonged.

Phoenix Suns: 2021 Postseason

When the Suns drew the Lakers as their first postseason opponents, many felt sympathetic, deeming their turnaround season already over given the LA’s championship poise behind talents such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis. On May 23, 2021, the Suns opened up with a victory though, where Ayton absolutely bullied Davis down low, scoring 21 points, while shooting 10-11 from the field.

But as he seemingly always does, Paul ran into some tough luck during the contest, injuring his shoulder. During the next two affairs, Paul looked more like the falsified State Farm version of himself, and it cost the Suns, who lost both games and surrendered their home court advantage. You could certainly argue that this was the darkest point of Phoenix’s season.

During Game 4 though, a real team effort helped the Suns find their grove once again. With six players reaching double figures, the Suns outlasted the Lakers 100-92. Booker then turned things up to help the Suns win their next contest, spraying LA with 30 points during Game 5, also with Payne by his side who added 16 points off the bench.

He then went from hot, to absolutely nuclear in order to silence the Lakers once and for all, dropping 47 points during Game 6 on June 3, 2021. It went down as the third most postseason points scored by a Phoenix player behind Charles Barkley and Nash. Paul looked much healthier as well, moving better and dishing out 12 assists. The Suns were back.

The Denver Nuggets essentially provided no challenge for the Suns, nor did their fans. Through the first three games, Phoenix outscored them 361-305, so during Game 4, they came out strong and proved the critically acclaimed “Suns in Four” prophecy truthful.

Paul scored 37 points, killing Denver from the mid-range to an extent unseen before. Booker also added 34 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, bringing a swift end to Nikola Jokic’s MVP season while moving ahead to the next round on June 13, 2021.

That brings us to the Western Conference Finals, where the Suns ran into trouble even before the series began. Taking one last hit from COVID-19, Paul tested positive a few days before the tipoff. That forced him to sit out Phoenix’s first two games. But the Suns neither slowed down, nor did they make excuses, winning both contests.

Payne stepped up bigger than anyone, scoring a career-high 29 points during Game 2. Booker sacrificed his nose during the contest as well after taking a shot from Patrick Beverley. He walked off the court with swollen face, but also a 2-0 series lead, coming as the far more valuable asset.

That acclimated to a nine-game winning streak for the Suns, their longest ever as a franchise. Not going quietly though, the Clippers bounced back, winning their first home contest against Phoenix during Game 3. It brought LA some confidence, with the team having already come back from two seperate 0-2 holes earlier during the playoffs. But this time the Suns returned with some fire, snatching a gritty, Game 4 road victory to go up 3-1.

Returning back to Phoenix, almost everyone expected the Suns to finish things off at home. But the Clippers had one more resilient effort in the tank. Starting out fast with a 20-5 run, the Clippers blasted the Suns, who struggled to keep pace the entire game, losing 116-102. George dropped 41 points, and Jackson hit four 3-pointers, allowing him to finish with 23 points.

But with a second try at advancing to the Finals, the Suns made good on it this time around, beating the Clippers in Game 6. Unless you celebrated really, really hard last night, you probably remember this one. On June 30, 2021, the Phoenix Suns earned their first Western Conference Championship since 1993.

Next. Phoenix Suns 3 "Secret Weapons" for Postseason. dark

But for the Suns, one more chapter remains unwritten, and like with most books, a good or bad ending can make or break the entire story. With Paul, Booker, Williams, and everyone else ready to put pen to paper, let’s hope they get it right.

As earlier mentioned, the Suns finished off their season last year while stringing together several wins. You never want to tell the same story twice, but that ending sure seems like it would fit nicely here as well.