If there’s anything the Phoenix Suns and the Utah Jazz proved in their overtime thriller Wednesday night, it’s that both teams showed why they held the two best records in the NBA. The Suns (36-14) beat the Jazz (38-13) in the OT slugfest, 117-113, cutting Utah’s lead for the top seed in the Western Conference to just 1.5 games.
But seedings aside, the game had everything you wanted as a basketball fan. Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker were putting a clinic on, displaying shot-making at the highest level. DeAndre Ayton and Rudy Gobert were battling like old-school bigs in the paint. Even Quin Snyder and Monty Williams were matching wits on the sidelines. And when the game was on the line, the “Point God,” Chris Paul, proved why he’s one of the most clutch players in the NBA.
It’s clear that the NBA prefers the two most glamorous teams in the west — the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers — to meet in the Conference Finals. However, if Wednesday’s night game between the Suns and the Jazz is an indication of what’s to come when these two teams meet, the West Finals that the NBA needs might just be between the team in the Valley and the team in Salt Lake City.
Here are three bold reasons why Suns-Jazz is the Western Conference Finals the NBA needs.
Tale of the Tape
The Suns and the Jazz have met twice this season with Phoenix winning both games. The Suns beat the Jazz 106-95 earlier in the season, but that game happened in the second week of the season, before both teams found their forms.
Wednesday night’s game painted a more accurate picture of what we can expect from these two teams and based on matchups alone, the Suns and Jazz are tailor-made for one another. Both teams have shotmakers of the highest of the order in Mitchell and Booker. Both teams are loaded with 3-and-D specialists that can swing games if they catch fire from deep. Offensively, these two teams can score in bunches. The Jazz are 3rd in offensive rating and the Suns aren’t far behind at 7th.
Defensively, both teams are also among the NBA’s elite. The Jazz are fourth in defensive rating with the Suns just a spot down in fifth. Utah is anchored by Gobert, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Phoenix doesn’t have a rim protector of the “Stifle Tower’s” stature, but third-year center DeAndre Ayton has gradually improved to the point of serviceable. The Suns counter that with a switch-heavy defensive scheme that plays to the strengths of elite wing defenders Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder.
From top to bottom, you’d be hard-pressed to find two teams as evenly matched as the Suns and the Jazz.
The Point God gets his due
It’s hard to believe that for all of the accomplishments Chris Paul has achieved in his 16-year, sure to be first-ballot Hall of Fame career, the Point God has only been in one Western Conference Finals. It’s not a huge stain in his resume, but it’s still going to be brought up whenever discussions of his resume arise.
Whether that’s fair or not is a discussion best suited for the talking heads. But if you’re a fan of the game, it’s hard not to root for Paul to finally break through and reach the first NBA Finals of his career. The man has made a career of turning moribund and mediocre franchises into playoff contenders. That list includes this Suns team that went 74-139 in the last three seasons.
Phoenix is now within shouting distance of the top seed in the west, and the lion’s share of the credit falls on the shoulders of CP3. It’s time he gets his due.
Validation for Gobert and Mitchell
It’s been an eventful year for the Jazz’s two superstars. Right or wrong, Gobert was vilified for being the first NBA player to contract COVID-19, and despite his MVP-worthy 2020-2021 campaign, nobody is mentioning Mitchell for the award. The latter even drew the ire of Shaquille O’Neal for not being a top-level player in one of the most awkward interviews we’ve ever seen.
Nobody, not the experts or the casual fans, expected the Jazz to be the top seed in a loaded Western Conference this late in the season. We can give credit to the Jazz front office for assembling a deep and talented roster. We can hat tip point guard Mike Conley for a return-to-form season. We can praise Quin Snyder for implementing a team-centric system that plays to the strengths of the entire roster.
But Gobert and Mitchell deserve a lion’s share of the credit for putting the Jazz in prime position to reach its first Western Conference Finals since 1998. Both players deserve their roses for making a lot of people eat crow.