The Phoenix Suns are in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993 after finishing off a 4-2 West Conference Finals series win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
Chris Paul’s dominant display saw him net 41 points as the Suns romped to a 130-103 victory at the Staples Center.
Waiting for them in the finals will be either the Milwaukee Bucks or Atlanta Hawks with the scores currently locked at 2-2 in their best-of-seven series.
Paul, who represented the Clippers between 2011 and 2017, has been selected for an incredible 11 NBA All-Star teams, but has yet to reach the NBA Finals. Until now…
His second-half masterclass blew the Clippers away with 31 of his 41 points coming after the restart for the third quarter. The 36-year-old also scored seven of his eight three-point attempts, as the Suns’ first outing in the postseason for 11 years ended in a trip to the biggest clash of all.
Phoenix have reached the Finals twice before, initially in 1976 when losing to the Boston Celtics, and again in 1993 when they were on the wrong end of the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat.
In defeat to the Celtics, they were facing an outfit who had been crowned champions two years prior, and the Bulls won six NBA titles in the 1990s.
This time around, their opponents will have no such recent history to boast of, with the Bucks last reaching a final in 1971, and the Hawks appearing 10 years earlier when they were known as St Louis Hawks.
They will have to call upon the team spirit that saw them overcome a reinvigorated Clippers outfit, who were starting to dream of a miraculous turnaround after Paul George’s 41 points kept them alive in game five.
This time, the 41 points of their own talisman in Paul booked their spot in the biggest series of all, and the former Oklahoma City Thunder star was evidently emotional after the most unlikely of runs to the final.
“From day one, they welcomed me with open arms,” he claimed. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but we’re going to enjoy this.
“Sixteen years, surgeries, hard work, losses, bad losses, but we’re going to enjoy tonight.”
Paul has, quite rightly, been heralded as the star, but he wasn’t alone in registering an impressive performance when it mattered most.
Devin Booker managed 22 points, Jae Crowder scored 19 and Deandre Ayton battled to 16 with 17 rebounds.
Leading by 17 points with the end of the third quarter approaching, Monty Williams would have feared an astonishing collapse after the Hawks returned with 10 unanswered points.
Paul had other ideas and put the result beyond doubt with a four-point play midway through the final quarter which took the scores to 111-92.
Phoenix were 26-39 late last year and were priced as long as 100/1 in November, and are now the 1/2 Betfred favourites ahead of game five in the Eastern Conference play-offs.
Out of the remaining three franchises, the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA title most recently back in 1971.
There has been heartbreak, near misses and failures for all three outfits in the 50 years that have since passed, but all that will be forgotten for one of them when they make their own piece of history.
The Suns have never been crowned champions of the NBA, and will be banking on more Chris Paul magic when the Finals eventually come around.