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The Phoenix Suns Are a Red-Hot Team With the Coolest of Heads

Kyle Koster
2021 NBA Finals - Game One
2021 NBA Finals - Game One / Christian Petersen/Getty Images
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Phoenix exerted control over the NBA Finals by cruising to a Game 1 victory without so much breaking a sweat in the glorified kiln that is the Arizona desert. Chris Paul continued to play like a man on a lifelong mission, showcasing his relatively newfound proclivity for scoring points by the dozens in small windows. Deandre Ayton was ruthlessly efficient in his Tim Duncan impersonation and Devin Booker found all the right places on the floor to sink back-breaking midrange jumpers or momentum-shifting triples. The domination was even more inspiring for Suns enthusiasts when weighing the goose egg from Jae Crowder and a surprisingly productive output from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The last element there, a quasi return to form from two-time MVP, will be spun today as a reason for Milwaukee hope. But those may be wishful thoughts of nonpartisans desperate for a long, competitive series.

Simply put, the Suns looked like the superior team. As they've appeared in each and every series. Historic injury luck and a reticence to accept new blood in the winner's circle have spawned this idea of any title requiring an asterisk. Which, sure, whatever you need to do. A trophy is a trophy and reluctance to give flowers is the ultimate respect disguised as disrespect — a good problem to have.

And truth be told, this orange-and-purple clad side may not be an all-time great team. It shouldn't take away from their accomplishments, which have been facilitated by a universal wave of poise and maturity throughout the overachieving roster.

Paul, of course, is the dictionary definition of a leader. He's embraced the role and is painting his masterpiece. He's done what every person in management dreams of doing — turn his scribes into an image of himself. The organization bet on him transforming the culture into a championship ecosystem of accountability and togetherness.

Consider Ayton. The 22-year-old center was 8-for-10 with 22 points and 19 rebounds in Game 1. He's the first player to notch 15 points and 15 boards in a Finals debut since Duncan. A monster on the glass, he's etching his name alongside greats like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Walton with six 15-plus rebound games this postseason. More than that, though, he's doing it without blinking. Only positive, team-forward emotions are on display. Paul himself shows a pure and open love for his younger partner who is playing like a 10-year veteran.

Then there's Booker, who still cannot legally rent a car yet is most at home in the driver's seat. He doesn't just want the big shot, he wants the right big shot. This year has been a study in becoming a vocal leader, someone who is embracing the lion inside on the biggest stage.

Mikal Bridges has been an essential two-way player who values possessions on each end of the floor. Cam Payne, though prone to bouts of hero ball, has found a level of fearless assertiveness to occasionally go off in three-minute stretches. Crowder, who needed no prodding to act the Alpha, has continued to bring the energy and understand his role.

And so on and so on. Watching Phoenix in the postseason has been to bask in veteran leadership from a relatively young team everyone has expected to wilt or show signs of inexperience. It's not the sexiest story line but it's a testament to a boat with everyone rowing in the same direction.

As the finish line creeps every closer, it's worth marveling at the mental fortitude and sharpness maintained. Few saw any of this coming and yet all indications are it's here to stay.

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