The Phoenix Suns advance!
After beating the LA Clippers in six games, the Suns are back into the NBA Finals for the first time since 1993.
After just missing out on playoff basketball last season, the Suns turned things around in 2020-21, finishing with the second-best record in the league at 51-21, before beating the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers to set up a meeting with the Milwaukee Bucks or Atlanta Hawks.
Either way, they'll have homecourt advantage in the Finals, courteousy of their regular season record.
In advancing to the championship round, not only have they broken a 28-year Finals drought, this is their first postseason appearance since 2009-10.
But how did they get here?
At just 24 years old, Devin Booker is the longest-tenured member of the Suns roster, spending his entire NBA career to date with the organisation that drafted him, with the No.13 pick in the 2015 Draft.
Before they rocketed to the second-best record in the league this season, Booker was there for some lean years in Phoenix, with the franchise going 121-280 scross his first five seasons in the league.
The two-time All-Star has been one of the stars of the 2021 postseason, his first playoff run and the first for the Suns since they made the Western Conference Finals in 2010.
Paul is in his first season with the Suns, but what a difference he's made.
After leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 44-28 record and a playoff berth last season, the Suns acquired the 36-year-old veteran in a trade for Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a 2022 first-round pick.
Once seen as an unmovable piece given his monster contract, Paul has been traded twice in two years, having a huge impact in both years.
In his 16th season, Paul has found the perfect fit in Phoenix, alongside an energetic crew of young players, providing savvy experience and late-game execution, stepping up in their closeout game in the Western Conference Finals with 41 points and eight assists.
Making his first ever NBA Finals in 16 seasons, Paul has never been closer to winning that elusive championship ring.
Over his first few seasons in the NBA, Ayton took a backseat to the highlight-filled duo of Luka Doncic and Trae Young, taking the headlines from the 2018 NBA draft.
Selected with the No.1 pick, Ayton watched on as Doncic and Young earned All-Star accolades, but now in his third season, the 6-foot-11 big man has carved out his own lane, becoming a star in his role.
Naturally, big men have always taken longer to devleop in the NBA and Ayton has become a force in the postseason, playing to his strengths, crashing the glass, setting screens, finishing at the rim and dominating the paint.
"Honestly, the world having me as a question mark in the playoffs [helped me focus]," he said. "That got to me a little bit and I'm going to change that. That's about it. Just a question mark on me. I just wanted to change that and prove everyone wrong."
"I look like a genius, huh? "I know I look like a genius a little bit with my decision."
"When I made the decision, you should have seen how many text messages I got," 'What are you doing? Why are you going to Phoenix? They haven't been to the playoffs in 10 years.'"
Crowder went to the NBA Finals last season with the Miami Heat and he saw something in Phoenix that perhaps many others didn't, signing a three-year, $30 million deal in the off-season and finds himself back in the NBA Finals right away.
The 30-year-old has been a perfect fit in Phoenix, with his defensive ability and 3-point shooting opening up the floor. Alongside Paul, his veteran presence has been pivotal in the playoffs.
Philadelphia 76ers fans must be kicking themselves.
Traded to the Suns on draft night in 2018 for a package including Zhaire Smith and a first round pick (later used in the deal to acquire Tobias Harris), Bridges has quickly developed into an elite 3&D player.
"Everything happens for a reason. You just wouldn't know at that point what was happening… Three years later, down the line, I'm just blessed, happy I'm here to be in the position I'm in right now, and just keep winning," Bridges said
A crucial ingredient of a championship-contending team is acquiring young players on team-firendly contracts who can contribute right away.
The Suns acquired Johnson, the No. 11 pick in the draft in 2019, along with Dario Šarić in a draft day trade for Jarrett Culver, the No. 6 pick of the draft and received plenty of heat initially for the move, but their decision quickly paid dividends.
Johnson, considered old for a rookie at the time, now 25, has provided valuable bench minutes for the Suns this season, knocking down 41 percent of his triples in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Saric, the other player in the deal has been a solid part of their rotation over the past two seasons as a stretch big, spacing the floor with his 42.9 percent clip from deep in the playoffs.
This has got to be one of the best comeback stories in the NBA.
After being selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Oklahoma City Thunder, Payne lasted just 1.5 seasons there, before a couple of brief stints with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers.
He soon found himself out of the league all together, playing in China and the G League, before joining the Suns in the bubble last season.
After helping the team go 8-0 in Orlando, he has been a key piece off the bench this season, stepping in for Chris Paul in Game 2 against the Clippers with a monster 29-point performance.
Acquired mid-season from Milwaukee Bucks for cash considerations, not much was made of Craig's addition to the squad, but the 30-year-old has proven to be a savvy mid-season pick-up.
He proved to be a valuable contributor, especially in the second round against his former team, the Denver Nuggets, giving them yet anohter 3&D option off the bench.
James Jones was recently named Executive of the Year and when you look back over the moves that have built this roster, it's easy to see why.
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