DAN BICKLEY

The NBA championship is beginning to feel real for the Phoenix Suns

Jun 20, 2021, 4:27 PM | Updated: 8:05 pm
JUNE 20: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a three-point shot against the LA Clippers...
JUNE 20: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns reacts to a three-point shot against the LA Clippers during the second half of game one of the Western Conference Finals at Phoenix Suns Arena on June 20, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Clippers 120-114.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Overreactions come easy in the playoffs, especially after raucous Game 1 victories.

But a championship is beginning to feel real in Phoenix. It no longer requires binoculars. The trophy is ours to lose.

After going 8-0 in the Orlando bubble in 2020, the Suns have now won eight consecutive playoff games. They prevailed on Sunday without their quarterback leader, Chris Paul. They are growing closer and stronger with each performance. And in the aftermath of another electric performance, Devin Booker will never be disrespected again.

“That’s who Book is,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “He’s been waiting for this moment – for these moments – for a long, long time.”

Booker saved his first career triple-double for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Booker finished with 40 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He bested Clippers star Paul George, who was also missing a superstar teammate (Kawhi Leonard). He made the Clippers pay for whatever defensive tactic they threw in his direction, committing only two turnovers in 44 minutes.

That’s legendary.

“I expect it,” Jae Crowder said. “I know what type of player he is.”

Crowder stressed caution and patience. He said the team connected with Paul in the locker room after the game, and the point guard flashed one finger to his teammates, reminding them to keep perspective.

But the Suns have established control of their third consecutive playoffs series. They are playing from ahead once again. They could be bolstered by the return of Paul in Game 2 on Tuesday while Leonard might not be available for the duration of the series.

It also feels like the Suns have unbreakable bond and gale-force momentum. Cam Johnson showed up big in Game 1. Cam Payne shook off a poor start and finished strong. And with Deandre Ayton continuing to play with great force and tenacity, the Suns continue to ascend. Just like he once promised.

In the days leading up to the 2018 NBA draft, Ayton made an ambitious comparison. He said this of a potential pairing with Booker:

“That’s Shaq and Kobe 2.0,” Ayton said. “We could really make something happen in Phoenix.”

Well, it’s happening. And with all due respect to the halftime act on Sunday, they were the real Tag Team on Sunday.

“Devin definitely took control,” Ayton said. “He led the team. He made sure we played as a unit … he stole some of my boards, but it’s all good.” The cumulative effect was another rocking house party in downtown Phoenix. The “Suns in 4” guy was in attendance and treated like royalty. And this party felt like it would never end.

Fans milled, cheered, and took pictures long after the game was over. They cheered Jevon Carter when he returned to the court to get in some practice shots. They even broke in a profane chant, where “Beat LA!” turned into “(Bleep) LA!”

It’ll get even better and louder when Paul returns.

“He’s proud of us,” Booker said. “He’s ready to get back. He’s working. And we can’t wait to have him.”

A city cheers, nodding its head in agreement.

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