The Los Angeles Clippers were touted to win the NBA Championship last season after landing both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They fell surprisingly short after surrendering a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
The Lakers went on to defeat the Miami Heat in six games yet were given no chance of a repeat as the Phoenix Suns dealt with them in the first round this time around. The Suns are the ones who now rule the NBA’s Western Conference, having also dealt with the Clippers, who were expected to make it to their first finals with their hometown rivals out of the way.
Veteran point guard Chris Paul had other ideas, however. The 16-year star put on a show in the building he played home games in for six seasons, helping his new team to a blowout, 130-103 win to wrap the conference finals series up in six games on Wednesday night.
The Suns took charge of the game from the opening tip and L.A stayed close until the third quarter, when Phoenix opened up a 17-point lead. Tyronn Lue’s side rallied back to score 10 straight points but Paul would take it upon himself to restore order, going on a personal 8-0 run to silence the excited home crowd and put Phoenix firmly in the driver’s seat.
The guard also scored 19 of his 41 points in the final quarter to drive his side to victory, as well as secure the first NBA finals appearance of his career. Paul is the most decorated player in league history to have never made the finals. He’s the player who has earned the most All-Star appearances and All-NBA selections without making a single trip to the finals. He will hope his first also marks what would be his first championship.
Paul, 36, missed the first two games of the series due to his contracting COVID-19. He struggled upon his return, shooting just 11-for-41 in Games 3 and 4, but would more than make up for it in Game 6, with the Clippers stretching the series to 3-2 on Monday night.
The Suns also received important contributions from youngster Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, while Jae Crowder was unplayable before having to sit with foul trouble in the third. Booker scored 22 on the night as Ayton chipped in 16 points and 17 rebounds. Crowder, who was in the finals with Miami last season, scored 13 of his 19 points in the second quarter.
The Suns hadn’t made it to the playoffs in a decade and their first appearance back sees them straight to the finals. Having won just 19 games three seasons ago, the turnaround is nothing short of amazing.
Paul, of course, is a key contributor but general manager James Jones and Monty Williams also had very big parts to play. Jones was named the NBA’s Executive of the Year while Williams finished second in the voting for the Coach of the Year Award, which was won by Tom Thibodeau of the New York Knicks.
All of a sudden, Suns fans have reason to celebrate again. Their team plays basketball past the end of the regular season for the first time since 2010 and they will have home-court advantage against whichever team wins the Eastern Conference.
The Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks are locked at 2-2 in the Eastern Conference finals and competitive odds on the matchup could be had from most of the major bookmakers, as well as the Virginia sports betting sites.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Trae Young are dealing with injuries at the moment and are both doubtful for Thursday night’s Game 5.
The Suns, who got through the Lakers, Nuggets, and now the Clippers, will be more rested heading into the finals and will hope for the series in the East to reach seven games.
Phoenix fans will be soaking it up for a few days, while their team prepares for their first finals since 1993.
“I do feel it when we go out to the floor,” coach Williams said of the fanbase earlier in the series. “That environment, I don’t know of any other environment that can touch it. There may be some just as loud, but nobody is louder than our fans on game night.”
The coach and his star guard will hope they could bring the city a championship on the back of their remarkable run together. The pair worked with each other when Paul was still in New Orleans and are known to have a great relationship.
“I’ve known Chris for 11 years now, so impact – we would be here all day talking about our friendship,” Williams said before Wednesday’s victory. “It’s bigger than basketball. There’s a connection and kinship there from the tough talks, the coaching, the texts, FaceTime, watching games. That probably sticks out to me, along with a few other things.”
Who knows how things would have turned out had Leonard been available for this series? But it’s the Suns, not the Clippers, who rule the West now that the dust has settled.