The Phoenix Suns are finally going back to the NBA Finals after an absence of 28 years. Yes, folks, for a team that was not even in the playoffs last year; nay, a team that was out of the playoffs for 10 long, agonizing years; an outsider-of-a-team in a small city that has never won the NBA title ever since; this improbable march to the NBA Finals must come as a gift straight from the basketball gods.
Despite the Suns’ lofty 2nd place finish in the regular season, they were losing their first-round duel 1-2 against the defending champions, LA Lakers. But a groin injury to Anthony Davis robbed the Lakers of a chance to defend their crown. The Suns would promptly slaughter the Lakers with lopsided scores, sweeping the next 3 games to emerge triumphant 4-2. Next, faced against last year’s bubble darlings, the Denver Nuggets; a prior injury to Denver’s top guard Jamal Murray would be just enough to gain an insurmountable advantage, driving the Suns to the next round 4-0.
Finally, in this Western Conference Finals against the LA Clippers, the gods would once again gift them with more undue advantage, as one by one, the Clippers’ Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard and finally, Ivica Zubac were sent to the showers on account of a variety of ailments. The Suns proceeded to rip the Clippers 4-2. When the NBA Finals finally opens, these lucky Suns will be facing either the Milwaukee Bucks – with an injured Giannis Antetokounmpo – or the Atlanta Hawks – with an ailing Trae Young. These Suns – less tested and by then, well-rested – will be heavily favored to win the crown.
In the East, it is a brutal battle which has seen both teams’ top stars, Giannis and Trae, sidelined for a number of games due to injuries. The Bucks lead the series 3-2 as the 2 surviving protagonists stagger toward the finish line. Whoever pulls through will have 1 more 7-game series to endure, against the fresh troops of the Phoenix Suns for the right to fight for the prestigious NBA crown.
Both the Bucks and the Hawks were themselves catapulted into the Eastern Finals when injuries crippled their respective foes. The Bucks took 7 games – the last via an epic overtime – to outlast the favored Brooklyn Nets. The Nets faltered after 2 of their star trio – James Harden and Kyrie Irving – were downed by injuries. The Hawks, on the other hand, also took 7 games to upend the top-seed Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers top stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – were not in tiptop shape, having just come back from different disabilities.
Yes, injuries have become the main catalyst in this year’s playoffs. The Lakers had both Lebron and AD in sick bay prior to and during the playoffs. The Clippers lost Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka. Nuggets missed Jamaal Murray; while Utah Jazz had Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley in street clothes for a while. In the east, the Sixers checked Embiid and Simmons right before the playoffs, the Nets lost Harden and Irving, Boston Celtics competed without Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker. And then there’s Giannis and Trae for both the Bucks and the Hawks.
This year’s playoffs will be won by the team that is less affected by the health bug. Action has been exciting nonetheless, with coaches showing audacity and great creativity in dealing with the stars’ absence. New faces and new moves, these were in full display in the playoffs. And old names and old power teams were eased out, given the door by hungry teams in search for that elusive crown. And by the looks of it, it seems like it will go the way of this popular old song:
“The Sun(s) will come out tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow
There’ll be Sun(s).”
Cover photo courtesy of abc15.com. Other photos courtesy of Forbes.com, Liberty Ballers, Masslive.com, Clipsnation.com, LA Times, Arizonasports.com, dknation.draftkings.com, sbnation.com, republicworld.com, Sportskeeda and ManilaTimes.net.