For the first time since 2010, the Phoenix Suns are in the playoffs.
With Wednesday night’s 109-101 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Suns have guaranteed a top-six placing in the Western Conference standings and an appearance in the first round of the playoffs.
The 2020-21 season follows a rough half-decade for the Suns in which they failed to win 25-plus games for four straight years before reaching a record of 34-39 during a shortened season in 2019-20.
Kelly Oubre Jr. and Ricky Rubio, two key pieces from that team, were traded by the Suns in the offseason to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of a deal for All-NBA guard Chris Paul.
With the NBA’s short ramp-up after an offseason with no basketball in a group setting during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Suns unsurprisingly got off to a slow start.
They began head coach Monty Williams’ second season 8-8, with that eighth loss coming at the hands of a depleted Thunder roster that led to Williams ranting in his postgame press conference.
Following that game, the Suns’ ascent got underway. They won 17 of their next 20 games, continuing a tremendous run of form through to late April, where losses to the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets marked the team’s first back-to-back defeats in three months.
Paul and Devin Booker were both named All-Stars this year, with Booker winning the Western Conference’s Player of the Month award in February. While the team has had a few players miss time due to COVID-19, they’ve remained mostly healthy.
Third-year players Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges have played a big part in one of the league’s best defenses, as has free-agent signing Jae Crowder. Cameron Payne, Dario Saric and Cameron Johnson are the featured reserves who have consistently made an impact in games, with recent acquisition Torrey Craig quickly making his mark as well.
The return for the playoffs for the Suns follows the 2010 run in which Steve Nash led Phoenix to the Western Conference Finals, coming up short in six games against Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers.