The Phoenix Suns are heading back to the NBA Finals in a fashion that no team has ever done before.
By closing the Clippers in a dominant Game 6 victory on Wednesday night, the Suns became the first team to reach the NBA Finals on their heels in a 10-year playoff drought. The stretch itself marks the fifth-longest playoff absence in league history.
“We’ve seen the bottom for several years,” star guard Devin Booker said in the aftermath of the celebration of Wednesday’s win. “I was in a lot of bull-bull, honestly, I put myself down and I worked.”
Booker, taken with the 13th pick in the 2015 draft, suffered from five sad seasons in his first half decade in the league, winning just 30% of his game and having six different head coaches. The franchise failed to surround Booker with a core of young talent, whiffing over a huge number of draft picks – Dragan Bender No. 4 overall in 2016, Marquese Chriss No. 8 in 2016 and Josh Jackson No. 4 in 2017.
It originally looked like the Suns made another questionable selection when they took Deandre Ayton on Luka Doncic and Trae Young in 2018. But Ayton exploded in those playoffs, averaging 16.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
The Suns finished last in the Western Conference in three consecutive seasons from 2016 to 2018, encouraging speculation on whether Booker would wind like a trading chip rather than a franchise pillar.
Late last season, though, Phoenix’s fortunes began to shift. The Suns entered Orlando’s NBA bubble with a 26-39 record, the second worst mark among the 22 teams participating in the restart. But they caught fire in the bubble, going 8-0 and providing the franchise with a badly needed wave of optimism entering an essential offseason.
Rather than trade Booker, the Suns are afraid of their budding superstar and one good faith, landing 11-time All-Star Chris Paul in a trade with the Thunder. Paul proved the missing link as Phoenix, building its bubble momentum, captured No. 2 seed in the West with a 51-21 record.
“I was on a mission not to be missed,” Paul said Wednesday. “Just a lot of emotions. A lot of (things) are happening.”
Now the Suns, improbably, are just four wins away from the first NBA franchise championship.
Booker said: “We still have work to do.” “This is nice and all, but we’re going for the Larry (O’Brien Trophy), for sure.”