To everyone not named Charles Barkley, the 2021 NBA Finals match-up between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks came as a surprise. For most, the Eastern Conference was meant to come down to Philadelphia and Brooklyn, but neither team made it to the conference finals. Out west, it was the battle of Los Angeles that everybody had hoped for, but history would have the Phoenix Suns eliminating both teams in the Playoffs in a pair of Game 6’s at Staples Center.
Once we knew the finalists, the basketball world made their picks, and it appeared as if most had Phoenix running away with the series due to the beautiful brand of team basketball they play. Now, with the Suns staring down the possibility of their championship dreams shattered, former NBA player and ESPN analyst Tim Legler shared that Phoenix should not have had these hopes in the first place.
“Lakers don’t break down, Kawhi doesn’t go down or even Jamal Murray is healthy, the Phoenix Suns don’t make the NBA finals. CP3 leadership or not.”Tim Legler, The Lowe Post
Speaking of injuries as a factor in any team’s playoff run is almost taboo these days; doing so is labeled disrespectful and the point of view of casuals. Yes, it is disrespectful to put an asterisk on the efforts of people because you still have to show up and play the game to win despite injuries, but it is the truth. The Lakers without AD and the Clippers without Kawhi are significantly less productive and connected teams on both ends of the floor. It’s just fact.
What Legler seems to be saying here is not that Phoenix does not deserve to be in the Finals, or that their achievements should have an asterisk, but perhaps given the circumstances, the Suns’ accomplishments as a team should not be mistaken as the product of the individual greatness of some of their players.
Chris Paul is a great leader, but so is LeBron James, and we saw a semi-healthy Lakers team dominate Paul and the Suns. Legler was making this point to stress the fact Phoenix can’t think like they have a championship-caliber team – they need to upgrade the roster this summer to make it back to the Finals.
If injuries are part of the game, we should also recognize them as essential parts of the league’s history. By doing this, we do not cast doubts on those whose accomplishments involved handicapped teams but foster a greater appreciation for those accomplished that didn’t. Availability is the best ability, right?
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