DAN BICKLEY

Bickley: Suns’ trip to NBA Finals is a triumph we will never forget

Jun 30, 2021, 10:30 PM
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns holds the Western Conference Championship trophy after the Suns...
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns holds the Western Conference Championship trophy after the Suns defeated the LA Clippers in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals at Staples Center on June 30, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES – Hello, NBA Finals. Goodbye, Los Angeles. Good riddance, Clippers.

Exhale, Phoenix.

For the first time in 28 years, the Suns are playing for a championship.

What a time to be us.

“I knew this was a special group,” Suns forward Jae Crowder said. “I knew we had a chance to do something special.”

Given the stakes, the Suns summoned their best basketball game of the season on Wednesday, a 27-point knockout on the road. Chris Paul silenced all doubters. Devin Booker imposed his will. Jae Crowder broke out of his slump. Torrey Craig was so good he made head coach Monty Williams look silly for previous rotations.

The Suns failed to give the Valley a clinching performance at home in Game 5. But no one is complaining about that now. They’ve eliminated two L.A. teams inside Staples Center. They’ve emerged from the Western Conference gauntlet. And maybe they’re saving the ultimate party for the NBA Finals.

“It’s a long time coming,” Booker said. “We’ve seen the bottom. The bottom of the bottom for multiple years.”

It only seemed right that Paul and the Suns conquer this moment together. Both have storied histories. Neither has an NBA championship. Both have endured cruel misfortune in the postseason.

The NBA is a league of stars, and Paul’s struggles to climb this mountain defined the evening. He responded with a ruthless display of precision and killer instinct, flushing any stupid narrative about his inability to win clutch games.

Paul scored 41 points. His second-half focus would’ve cut through steel. He was so dominant that he made the villainous Patrick Beverley lose his mind, pushing Paul to the ground from behind during a timeout. Enjoy your suspension, coward.

“We know we broke him,” Crowder said.

“There were questions about (Paul’s) production before tonight,” Williams added. “And in my heart, I felt it was a matter of time. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. But that’s who Chris is.”

Even when the game was soaring out of reach for the Clippers, Paul kept his foot on the accelerator. Crowder kept asking, “Are you tasting it?” But Paul was too locked in to listen, too hungry to give the Clippers any flicker of hope.

And when he finally came out of the game, Williams gave his veteran leader a beautiful embrace that came from deep in his heart.

“I’m not into (being) cool,” Williams said. “I just felt like hugging him.”

While Paul’s career-defining game warms the heart, our story is even better.

Our championship drought began with a lost coin flip for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1968. That marked the beginning of a great arc of time when the Suns helped build our community, define the Valley and entertain us all. They didn’t put Phoenix on the map, but they put us on national television. The Suns were our very first ticket to the big time.

Everything about this postseason feels like an exorcism, a biblical slaying of demons: Eliminating LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round; a fan base from Arizona that took over visiting arenas, and not the other way around; a busted nose that put Booker’s face on T-shirts, recalling that fateful injury to Steve Nash; and, finally, vanquishing a Clippers team that was starting to smell like a real nemesis, just like those loathsome Spurs.

“It’s been a lot, man,” Paul said. “I wanted this not just for myself. But for everyone in that locker room.”

This is a moment to savor. There is something pure about this group, a brotherhood that is full of commitment, selflessness and youthful exuberance. They love each other as much as we love them. Let’s hope they can harness this camaraderie for years to come.

But let’s not worry about the future just yet. This is about a game and a moment and a triumph we will never forget. With even bigger games yet to come.

So raise a glass, Suns fans. And sometime after a holiday weekend, the real fireworks begin.

Penguin Air

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Bickley: Suns’ trip to NBA Finals is a triumph we will never forget