After the Milwaukee Bucks lost the first two games of the NBA Finals, they were called by one analyst “the dumbest team in NBA Finals history.” Now that the Phoenix Suns are on the brink of elimination following three straight losses, another NBA talking head surmises the Suns should be happy just to be here.
It would be interesting to see if he had the same feeling after Game 2, but it’s part of today’s world. An analysis isn’t about Xs and Os as much as it is about the hot take du jour. Anyone can diagram a Jrue Holiday-to-Giannis Antetokounmpo lob pass. But it takes natural analytical talent to declare a team to be the dumbest in the history of an event that dates back more than 70 years.
This pendulum effect in analyzing the 2021 NBA Finals at least has a logical basis. It’s been the very definition of a back-and-forth series.
The Phoenix Suns drew first blood in the NBA Finals
As the Phoenix Suns rolled to double-digit victories at home in the first two games of the NBA Finals, there wasn’t much talk about the Suns being lucky to be there. Instead, Chris Paul was on the verge of filling a 16-year-old hole in his career resume. Devin Booker was one of the game’s rising superstars.
Then the series went back to Milwaukee. The Bucks curb-stomped the Suns in Game 3 to close the gap to 2–1 and evened the series with a come-from-behind win late in Game 4. Khris Middleton really is Milwaukee’s other superstar. Giannis Antetokounmpo can lead a team to a championship.
The narrative shifted back Phoenix’s way as the Suns blew to a substantial early lead in Game 5. But just as quickly, it moved back after the Bucks turned a 16-point deficit at the end of one quarter into a three-point halftime lead.
Phoenix fell behind by as much as 14 points – a 30-point swing overall – before storming back. But for the second straight game, a Suns guard found himself on the floor as the ball headed in another direction to clinch a Bucks win.
And that leaves us where we are now, with Phoenix just being lucky to be here at all.
The NBA Finals would have been different in an 82-game season, says a typically solid analyst
On ESPN’s The Lowe Post podcast, analyst Tim Legler went to great lengths to explain why the Phoenix Suns shouldn’t have been in the NBA Finals at all. If it had been a “normal year,” the Los Angeles Lakers would have stayed healthy, the Denver Nuggets would have gotten 48 minutes a game from Jamal Murray, there would be no load management for Kawhi Leonard, and we’d all be seeing rainbows and butterflies.
Because, after all, no player has ever gotten injured in a “normal year,” right?
“To me, the storyline for the Phoenix Suns is going to be — great story, they emerged this year, they’re on the map now. But, we also have to be honest — normal year, if the Lakers don’t break down, if the Clippers don’t break down physically, probably if Jamal Murray doesn’t go down, the Suns are not in the NBA Finals.
“They weren’t ready to take this leap. Injuries played a large part in it ‘cause what you’re seeing now is this: they need another guy.”Tim Legler
Legler’s overall point has some validity. Booker has had to take on a massive workload as a scorer because Paul has been inconsistent. After all, teams don’t try to put together a Big Two to open a championship window. They prefer trios.
The Phoenix Suns did not ‘upset’ the Lakers
This notion floating around throughout the playoffs that the Phoenix Suns lived some sort of charmed life and sneaked through to the NBA Finals is just plain wrong.
They finished with the second-best record in the NBA, folks. In this 72-game season, two teams won 50 games, the Utah Jazz with 52 and the Suns with 51. That’s it.
Phoenix did not upset the Lakers in the first round. Unlike college football polls, what you did in the past doesn’t mean a thing in the NBA. Defending champs or not, LA had to win a play-in game to qualify for the playoffs, and the Suns were a solid second seed.
Neither did Phoenix “upset” the Denver Nuggets or the LA Clippers, each of whom finished behind the Suns in the standings. Injuries play a role every season. Neither the Phoenix Suns nor the Milwaukee Bucks should have their accomplishment minimized just because they aren’t among the glamour teams.
Statistics courtesy of NBA.com/stats.