Momentum Began In Bubble, Now Suns Edge Closer To Title

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Suns are three wins away from advancing to the NBA Finals. The focus is on taking it one game at a time against the Clippers.

Following a 120-114 victory on Sunday, Phoenix is looking to take a 2-0 edge before hitting the road. To do that, Monty Williams says there’s some defensive adjustments they need to make.

“We were solid in some areas and some not so much,” Williams said. “I thought the physicality that we showed was decent… we still see areas where we can improve. Closing out on perimeter shooters needs to get better.”

There’s still no update on Chris Paul’s status. Despite that, he’s making his presence felt through FaceTime and even his brother, C.J. Paul, who sits court side.

“Hey, anything will help,” E’Twuan Moore said about C.J. Paul yelling stuff at them. “If he’s helping us win, we’ll take it.”

Moore hadn’t played much this postseason, but like the rest of the bench unit, he answered the call with Paul out. Williams didn’t know what to expect but he believes this team is as mentally-tough as any other he’s ever been apart of.

Bubble To WCF

For many outside the organization, this run is unexpected. However, the seed for this success was planted in 2020 during the bubble in Orlando. The Suns went 8-0 and Devin Booker made his presence felt, especially with an iconic buzzer-beater against the Clippers.

“We had the most to gain from the bubble last year,” Williams said. “We built a ton of confidence. Our young guys had to show improvement everyday for sure when we were in Orlando.”

The depth of Phoenix is the most astounding part of the squad. Young players like Cam Johnson and Deandre Ayton were put in critical situations in the bubble, which are now translating to their first postseason experience.

“It gave us a ton of momentum,” Johnson said. “It showed the work that we put in, the culture we built, was starting to pay dividends.”

The bubble became a launching pad towards a new level of play for Ayton. The 2018 No. 1 overall pick often struggles to stay within his game. Or at least he struggled, prior to the postseason this year where he’s averaging 15.6 points on 71.6 percent shooting.

Even with the Clippers playing small, Ayton stayed true to his role in game one. Williams says they’re doing as much as they can to keep him in the paint and out of tough rotations that would place him on the perimeter.

“Deandre has figured out the workload and his role,” Williams said. “He knows that it takes a lot to be good in this league. He’s a guy that knows he has to do all the extra stuff and he does.”

Not everyone on this roster was with the team in Orlando. Paul most notably, but also Jae Crowder and Moore, who bring veteran leadership in the locker room and on the court.

“After game one of the season, coach sent me a text and said, ‘man, I think we’re a championship team’ and I said ‘yeah, I feel like we are too,'” Moore said. “We just had to believe and put the work towards it from day one.”

Executive Construction

Prior to tip-off in game one, James Jones was named NBA Executive of the Year. His kids and Robert Sarver made the announcement in front of the home crowd. 

Williams didn’t know he won until he walked on the court and heard them announce Jones’ name. At that point, he just started clapping.

“It was pretty cool. I was happy for him and his family,” Williams said. “He’s a big reason why we’re having success because of the team he’s put together and the character and talent he’s assembled.” 

The front office in Phoenix is succeeding because of drafting and keeping players who know their roles. This team feels much like a 1980’s team, with every player having a set position and role, unlike many position-less play styles throughout the league.

“Team wide, I really love our group,” Johnson said. “He (Jones) deserves it… this is a group worth fighting for and I’m really happy for him.”