The Suns felt disrespected heading into Game One of their first playoff series since being swept in the 2010 Western Conference Finals. Nope, it wasn’t because they were about to face the Kobe Bryant-led Lakers, who just so happened to administer the beating they took 11 years ago en route to the championship. Rather, it was because they were about to face the LeBron James-led Lakers, who just so happened to be favored by pundits despite being the lower seeds coming off a championship. Evidently, finishing with the second best regular season record in the National Basketball Association was not enough for them to chuck their supposed underdog status.
To be sure, the Suns approached the 2020-21 season with purpose. They missed making the 2020 playoffs, but were buoyed by a perfect 8-0 slate in the bubble. They then succeeded in latching on to point god Chris Paul, would wound up providing them with the leadership they required to grow. In no small measure, they likewise lucked into respected bench tactician Monty Williams, who hitherto walked away from consideration by — who else — the Lakers for the vacant head coaching job. The twin developments enabled them to escape their troubled history of underperformance and, by all accounts but their own, exceed themselves.
There is, to be sure, no glossing over the past. For the Suns to gain recognition and acceptance as contenders, they first need to win. And, in this regard, it’s only fitting that they will be going through the Lakers. Advancing to the West Semifinals at the expense of the defending titleholders gives them the definitive legitimacy they aren’t really seeking, but nonetheless deserve. And if their sterling performance in Game One the other day is any indication, they’re up to the task, as daunting as it may seem.
Only time will tell if the Suns manage to upend the Lakers. To truly scale their Mount Everest, they would have to be as committed today — and until they claim four matches in the best-of-seven affair. One thing’s clear in any case; if they lose the series, it won’t be because they beat themselves.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.