When the Beatles popularized the song “Here Comes the Sun” in the 1969, it coincided with the birth of a new expansion franchise in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns. The Suns became the darling of sports fans in Arizona then, being the first-ever professional sports club to have competed from the state. And the song would encapsulate the fans’ dreams for a championship for the community. When shall the Suns shine through with a championship? Twice in the distant past, the team reached the Finals; only to be denied in 1978 by a Boston Celtics team with a proud championship tradition; and in 1993 by a GOAT by the name of Michael Jordan and his dynastic Chicago Bulls. The Suns have had numerous highly-competitive seasons since then, but they have never once tasted that distinct sweetness of championship champagne.
With last year’s acquisition of elite point guard, Chris Paul, the already-solid Phoenix Suns once again became a serious contender for the title. Chris Paul’s leadership and court smarts have always been a profound influence in all the teams he has been with. He would once again wield that magic, significantly raising the maturity level of the otherwise young, inexperienced team. And as luck would have it, injuries brought down their top rivals in the west, paving the way to the Suns’ championship appearance. First, it was the Lakers, whose injuries to Lebron James and Anthony Davis would lead to the Lakers’ early exit in the first round. Then it was Jamal Murray, whose inability to suit up for the Nuggets would ruin their chances in the 2nd round match-up. And this was followed by the absence of Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers in the Western Conference Championship. All were main cogs in their respective teams, all would have profound effects in their respective teams’ playoff campaigns.
Then came the debacle that was Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. The Suns were on the verge of bringing home the NBA crown to Arizona, leading the championship series 2-0. It looked like it would finally be the year the Suns came out. But this was simply not to be. Giannis would carry the Bucks on his broad shoulders to sweep the remaining games and win the 2021 crown 4-2.
This year though, it seems that the Suns are picking up from where they left off. After stumbling to a 1-3 start, the Suns racked up 18 straight wins to lead the league 19-3. Win number 17 was a convincing defensive romp over Steph Curry and the erstwhile league-leading Golden State Warriors. This was the battle everyone was looking forward to watch, the clash between the top 2 teams in the NBA at the 1st-quarter turn of this regular season. Devin Booker left the game before the halftime break due to a hamstring injury. Despite this, the Suns gutted it out and displayed a balanced firepower while forcing the Warriors to commit an unlikely 22 turnovers. The Suns’ stingy defense was at its best against the MVP-esque Steph Curry, limiting him to a measly 12 points coming from an embarrassing 19.0 Field Goal Percentage.
After that, the Suns made franchise history last Thursday when they posted their 18th consecutive win this year, a 114-103 dismantling of the Detroit Pistons. The 18-game streak is now on record the team’s longest-ever winning streak.
However, the Warriors bounced back in their rematch today 118-96, by playing smart and relaxed basketball. Thus, they snapped the Suns’ cherished winning streak and regained the league’s best record. The Warriors, playing in their homecourt at the Chase Center in San Francisco, took advantage of the absence of Devin Booker (hamstring) and Mikal Bridges (dislocated finger), to win going away. Devin is the team’s top points-producer, while Mikal is the team’s top perimeter defender. The duo’s absence was a big loss for the Suns in that crucial encounter.
With that, both teams are tied with 1 win apiece, as they lead the league in the regular season standings. This season’s growing rivalry will be tested once again when the 2 teams meet for a third time on Christmas Day. Hopefully, both teams will be at full strength, with Booker and Bridges back for the Suns; and Klay Thompson and James Wiseman rejoining the Warriors as well.
But what is evident is that the Suns now have what it takes to match up against the best in every position, plus a bench that could be the envy of most coaches in the NBA. Apart from Chris Paul and Devin Booker, there’s DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, both of whom are ripe for a breakout season. And then there are the promising youngsters Cam Payne and Cam Johnson, both of whom could easily take a starting role in other teams. Plus veterans Jae Crowder, Javale McGee, Frank Kaminsky and Landry Shamet. A basic rotation anchored on these players will certainly pose a major challenge to the league’s top teams. The Suns are a relatively young team that started to get noticed only during the Bubble Games 2 seasons ago. It is a balanced mix of experience and youth, speed and savvy.
This developing rivalry between the Warriors and the Suns will be worth watching. Both have their share of veterans and promising young understudies ready to take over from the veterans. Imagine, if you will, Steph Curry meeting Chris Paul; Klay Thompson vs Devin Booker; Andrew Wiggins facing Mikal Bridges; Draymond Green locking elbows with Jae Crowder; and James Wiseman eyeball-to-eyeball with DeAndre Ayton. Plus both benches boast of promising talents and veterans. And then we have a pair of creative bench tacticians in Steve Kerr and Monty Williams. Looks like an intriguing and well-balanced match-up that could go either way to me.
For a closer look, just click on the pics. Cover pic courtesy of Basketball Forever. Other photos courtesy of: Skysports, Bright Side of the Sun, Valley of the Suns, Arizona Sports, Forbes Magazine, Orange County Register, Keeping It Heel and SportsMax.