The last time the Phoenix Suns won a playoff game, Iron Man 2 crushed the box office, Eminem was no.1 on the Billboard charts with “I’m not afraid,” and two up-and-coming TV shows, The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family grabbed the top of the tv ratings. At the beginning of the last decade, the once fan-favorite Phoenix Suns won a playoff game as they beat Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the Western Conference Finals to tie the series at two games apiece on May 25th, 2010. What a coincidence it must be for the franchise that their first playoff win in over a decade was also against the Lakers, this time being led by LeBron James. No one was giving Phoenix a chance in this series, citing their youth and inexperience because they will be no match for the defending champions.
“Understanding that things happen in the game that don’t go your way and that you have to play through that. It’s about having that tunnel vision.”Devin Booker
In both series, now and then, the Suns were viewed as the underdogs. Back when small ball really wasn’t a thing, the Lakers not only had one of the game’s most lethal scorers in Kobe Bryant, but he was flanked by arguably the best twin-tower combination in the league with a front line of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Kobe, being guarded by Grant Hill primarily, was a handful as expected, but having to keep Bynum and Gasol off the glass during the occasional miss proved to be too much to handle for the smaller Suns led by Steve Nash.
The Lakers have the size advantage once again, but in Game 1, the Suns’ speed and quickness from 1 to 5 really proved to be the difference as the defending champions looked a step too slow in trying to keep up with young stars DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker. Book finished with 34-7-8, scoring while filling in some of the playmaking gaps left by an injured Chris Paul. Ayton was also a monster today, with a double-double garnered on a 91% clip from the field, winning what was supposed to be a very lopsided match-up between him and Anthony Davis, with AD expected to be the dominant one. This was not the case Sunday, as the bigger Lakers were outplayed on both ends of the floor for nearly the full 48 minutes and the youth that was supposed to be a disadvantage for the Suns became the deciding factor in their Game 1 victory.
Perhaps it is too early to say that Phoenix has LA on their heels. After all, in last year’s championship run, the Lakers dropped Game 1 in both of their first two series against the Blazers and the Rockets in the bubble. The Suns may not be as talented as those teams, but they have distinct advantages over the Lakers in their youth, athleticism, and team balance. While many will still say Lakers in 5 or 6, it will be interesting to see how a second seed with a nothing-to-lose mentality will continue to try and apply pressure to the Lakers after drawing first blood.
In many ways, this year’s Suns should remind us of last year’s Heat team; and if you recall the bubble, nobody had the Heat making it to the finals and challenging a healthy Lakers amidst injuries to key players on the Miami roster. The Suns have all the tools to upset the defending champions in the first round, and if we know anything about great comeback stories, they start when you least expect it.