The Suns are heading to the NBA Finals, warming the hearts of NBA fans along the way

How can you not like these Phoenix Suns?

A postseason that has extracted so much still managed to bless us with a feel good story.

In a shortened season marred with injuries, COVID-19 and relentless disparaging discourse, Phoenix brought the warmth NBA fans desperately needed.

A team to feel good about. A team credible with its valiance on the court and that’s adorable with its reverence for the moment.

Maybe the feel good is due to the presence of Chris Paul and Monty Williams, two individuals who deserve all the good coming their way. Or maybe it is the rise from nothing to Western Conference champions, without taking the fast route.

No matter the reason, the Suns being just 4 wins away from the pinnacle of the sport warms the heart.

Stephen Curry didn’t make the playoffs. LeBron James got bounced early. Kawhi Leonard got hurt. And yet, the sun didn’t set in the West. It just posted up in Phoenix, shining so bright as to draw attention to something special brewing.

What’s unique about the Suns is how their arrival was improbable enough to be surprising — and yet they’re good enough that it doesn’t feel like a fluke.

How can you not like these Suns?

Their best player is Booker, a magnet for favor. His connection to the legacy of Kobe Bryant. His game is attractive and unique to him.

We got to watch him grow up in these playoffs. He’s toiled for years and did so the right way. The way we like our athletes. No complaining. No leaking of trade demands. Just put in the work, keep getting better, paying your dues.

And just when he was becoming a sympathetic figure, when even Booker fans were about ready to demand the trade on his behalf, it was harvest time. The opportunity came, and Booker rose to the moment. We got to watch a star make the ascension to superstar and join the ranks of the elite. When the league’s best are mentioned, Devin Booker can’t be left out anymore.

How can you not like these Suns?

Admittedly, CP3 is an acceptable answer. The veteran point guard can certainly be irritating with the antics. Even in the biggest game of his life, late in the second half when it was time to lock in, Paul was still with the flailing and flopping antics.

It’s unbecoming when his ultra-competitiveness resorts to such things because he is so good. Paul is the quintessential point guard of a generation. Drafted in 2005, he’s played in three decades and — despite the changes in the game and the escalating demands from the position — has been a top-notch point guard in each decade. He just cooked the Clippers in an elimination game, dropping 31 of his 41 in the second half.

Don’t like CP3? Perfectly fine. Even the NBA needs heels, people to root against. But they only matter if they are worthy. Chris Paul is worthy. To not respect his game, what he’s bounced back from in his 16 years, what he’s doing at this stage in his career, is crazy. What he’s meant to the Suns, what he and Phoenix have found in each other, is a compelling layer to their story.

“Chris Paul is stamped, regardless,” Booker said. “Anything else from here is extra. It’s extra just to solidify. I know he wants it bad. I know he’s happy about this for his first time, but I know what he’s in pursuit of. … But as far as he needs a ring to be considered the — he’s one of the best point guards to ever play the game. And that’s a fact. And everybody knows that. Arguably the best.

“CP3 is stamped in this game forever.”

How can you not like these Suns?

Deandre Ayton was written off as a bust, lost in the shadow of Luka Doncic and Trae Young. But he really has been the difference-maker in these playoffs. He was Phoenix’s answer to Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic, validating himself as a No. 1 pick. Seeing a youngster reach his potential is always a good thing. Seeing him run into the stands and hug his mom is the kind of purity we need to cleanse our eyes.

How can you not like these Suns?

They’re led by a coach in Monty Williams and a general manager in James Jones who are universally and unanimously regarded with the utmost respect. They both handle their business with class and humility, deferring the shine to the court.

Williams’ imprint is all over this team, and he planted the seed for this confident bunch in the NBA bubble in 2020. What he began building a year ago, and his relationship with Paul, lured the optimal point guard to Phoenix.

Jones’ imprint is all over this team, too. It is not a coincidence a team put together by Jones is stocked with ideal role players. Mikal Bridges is the consummate role player of the modern era. Journeymen Jae Crowder and Cameron Payne have proven to be sent from heaven. It seemed Dario Saric and Kaminsky, both lottery picks who fell shy of their expectations, arrived in the desert two years ago to bury their careers and somehow found new life in the Valley.

Phoenix may not have made it this far in normal conditions. They may not even win the title this season. Who knows how they will stack up in a healthier future with a more regular schedule. They could be outclassed by the usual favorites. Or, this could also be the beginning, the early arrival of a new NBA power.

None of that matters, though. Not right now. What’s relevant is how the Suns delivered for us this season, in these circumstances. The saving grace of this forsaken postseason is the novelty. It’s been a long time, since perhaps the 2015 Warriors, that a team came from nowhere to shake up the status quo. And since, much energy has been exhausted complaining about super teams, about the absence of uncertainty, about the decline of more organic collectives.

Well, the Suns have risen. Bright. Fresh. Fun.

The proper response is to bask in the moment because in a year of so much misfortune, we have been fortunate to witness the Suns rise.

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