The Phoenix Suns Have Multiple Motivations to Prove Their Run to the NBA Finals Wasn’t a Fluke
If NBA fans felt skeptical about the Phoenix Suns‘ run to the Finals during the 2020-21 season, they’ve sufficiently erased all skepticism about their contender status by posting the best mark in the league through the first 30 games. Both Chris Paul and Devin Booker are attracting some MVP buzz, and depth guys like Cam Payne, Cameron Johnson, and JaVale McGree are all making an impact.
But the Suns could likely care less about the opinion of the ordinary fan. External forces already give Phoenix ample motivation to keep proving doubters wrong.
Suns assistant Jarrett Jack lit the fuse
Before the 2021-22 season, Jarrett Jack spent his days elsewhere. So when he addressed the Suns locker room during the first team meeting, he did so with an outside perspective.
Jack, who had just joined the team as an assistant to head coach Monty Williams, told the players (h/t ESPN) that people around the league felt Phoenix got lucky.
“There are people who don’t think you deserved to make the NBA Finals.”–Jarrett Jack to Suns players, per ESPN
The Suns probably heard this argument before. Phoenix got past a Los Angeles Lakers team that was without Anthony Davis for a chunk of the series. Jamal Murray never suited up for the Denver Nuggets. Clippers star Kawhi Leonard suffered a partial ACL tear during the Western Conference Finals.
Indeed, Devin Booker said the words sounded familiar. But there was something different about them coming from a messenger like Jack.
“We heard the noise,” Booker said, via ESPN. “But it was almost better hearing it from someone [Jack] who wasn’t in our program last year. He confirmed it.”
For his part, Williams acknowledged the truth in the outside narrative. But he also stated none of it mattered with the birth of a new season.
Doubt could have seeped in when the Suns started 1-3. But Phoenix promptly ripped off 18 wins in a row. Paul is playing like an ageless wonder. While his scoring numbers are down, Booker could be more dangerous than ever. Deandre Ayton is having one of his best seasons after failing to reach an agreement on a rookie extension. Phoenix’s depth has been on display, as well.
It all adds up to the Suns boasting the best record in the NBA. Still, it’s unlikely Phoenix will slow down any time soon. Despite their strong start, a previously sleeping giant is still stealing a lot of their shine.
Phoenix gets an extra push from the Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors seem to possess a mesmerizing quality, almost to a fault.
Consider the above exchange between ESPN personality Stephen A. Smith and former NBA star JJ Redick from the end of November. Stephen A. tries to argue the Suns’ championship window is already closed. His reasoning? After years of playing in the bottom half of the Western Conference, Curry and the resurgent Warriors look scary again.
Steph, in particular, has garnered ample attention, largely because he is playing at an MVP-caliber level and just became the all-time leader in 3-pointers. Plus, there’s plenty of excitement regarding the eventual return of Klay Thompson, with James Wiseman also set to rejoin the Dubs soon.
But while the 25-6 Warriors continue to impress, they’re also giving the Suns more motivation. As good as Phoenix has been, questions seem to exist about its ability to beat a Golden State team at full strength.
How fitting, then, that the Suns get another chance to test their merits against the Warriors on Christmas Day.
Suns-Warriors headlines Christmas Day slate
The Suns and Warriors are the third of five games on NBA Christmas Day. However, considering this matchup pits the two best teams in the league against one another, it really will be the headliner.
Phoenix won the first matchup, thanks in part to Mikal Bridges’ relentless defense on Curry. But the Dubs responded with a 22-point victory just three days later.
It’s hard to know exactly what to make of the first two showdowns. The Warriors remain without Thompson, while Booker missed the rematch with a hamstring setback.
One thing is clear, though: this is the last chance the Suns and Dubs get to send a message for some time. The two squads do not play again until the end of March. By that time, the Warriors could be fully healthy.
In any case, Phoenix can make a statement on Christmas Day and reassert its championship mettle.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.