DALLAS – Game 7. Two of the greatest words in the vernacular of sports.
Unless you cheer for the Suns.
Buckle up, Valley sports fans. The best regular-season team in the NBA is testing our nerves. And their own.
“I don’t think we understood the desperation they were going to play with,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “Couple that with the turnovers we had tonight, and it’s a recipe for what we just got.”
Bizarre. How many times have we heard that same lament this postseason alone?
There was a time when the Suns were the best road team in basketball. That is no longer the case. They scored 86 points and shot 39.7% from the field in a potential closeout game. And from the second quarter on, there wasn’t a whole lot of belief evident on the floor in American Airlines Center on Thursday.
Luka Doncic wanted all the smoke, dominating almost every defender sent his way. His teammates made their open shots. The Mavericks made 10 more three-point shots than the Suns and attempted 21 more from beyond the arc. This was a different kind of Luka Special.
Alas, we’ve seen this game before.
“We’ll look at the film and see what we have to do better,” Chris Paul said. “The only saving grace in this situation is we get to go home.”
The Suns have gained a treasure trove of playoff experience in the past two seasons. Thursday’s 27-point loss to the Mavericks was the 34th playoff game since Paul arrived in Phoenix. But as a group, they have no Game 7 experience to draw on. And after another blowout loss on the road, it’s fair to wonder about the vulnerability and mental health of this basketball team.
Paul was again largely ineffective, wearing the toll of continuous full-court pressure and heavy minutes on defense against bigger opponents. He seemed extremely relieved that the Suns will have an additional day to recover before Sunday’s tipoff.
After a raucous performance in Game 5, there was a hope that the Suns had finally found themselves. That they finally had elevated over the pesky Mavericks and were ready to move forward in their pursuit of a championship. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
Devin Booker went silent for the middle two quarters. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder were non-factors. The Suns committed 22 turnovers, giving them 56 in three games at Dallas. Sixteen of those turnovers came on Dallas steals. In sum, it was one of the most disorganized offensive performances of the season.
“I always say turnovers are like interceptions,” Paul said.
Meanwhile, for the second consecutive game, Cam Payne and JaVale McGee were out of the rotation. Aaron Holiday never got off the bench, even in mop-up duty. You wonder if the Suns have lost their footing, their identity and a chunk of their swagger.
After the game, Williams sensed a realization inside the locker room that the Mavericks had played harder than the Suns. This is another recurring issue that has shaken the faith on Planet Orange, where the encore postseason has been a weird mixture of euphoria and slog.
Here’s the silver lining: The Suns’ relentless focus and preparation during the regular season earned them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Their dedication and respect for the sport will give them an army of support on Sunday, when they will need it the most.
“You to embrace it,” Williams said.
“It’s win or go home,” Paul said.
“Greatest two words in sports,” Booker said.
Only if you win.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.