Contrary to popular belief, I can admit when I’m wrong. I thought the Phoenix Suns would come into this one fired up and ready to prove that they are still the class of the Western Conference. It didn’t go quite that way, as the Suns came out very flat in a game that somehow turned into an entertaining tale of two very different halves and an opening night victory for the Suns.
Head coach Monty Williams made some second half adjustments after a 17-point deficit — playing his starters as many minutes as possible, and then making the tough decision to keep Chris Paul out of the game the last six minutes because Point Book was getting the Suns the much-needed lead.
Dallas led by 15 points with 8:31 left in the fourth quarter after Christian Wood went on a personal 16-2 run to give the Mavs the commanding lead.
But the Suns refused to go down, and they battled all the way back with Devin Booker mostly running point to set up his teammates on aggressive drives into the paint.
In the end, it was newcomer Damion Lee making killer shots for the Suns, including a pair of threes and then the game winning jumper to put the Suns up 107-105 with 9.7 seconds left.
Lee had committed a foul on Doncic the play before, giving them a 3-point play to tie the game. In the huddle, Monty Williams simply looked at Lee and said, “Go make a play.” He appreciated that confidence from his coach and... he did.
Luka Doncic, who was having so much fun for a while, ending up a -25 in 18 second-half minutes and missed a 30+ foot three at the buzzer.
Big stats for Suns:
- Damion Lee — 11 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds — GAME WINNER
- Devin Booker — 28 points, 9 assists, 2 turnovers, +20 for the game
- Deandre Ayton — 18 points, 10 rebounds, 2 assists, +15 for the game
- Mikal Bridges — 13 points, 11 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, +15 for the game
Overall, the Suns outscored the Mavericks by 19 points in the second half, 62-43.
Suns are 1-0!
After the win, where Booker picked up the Suns and carried them to the win through such adversity, showing how important it was to win this game for him, gave the same answer when asked how important it was to win over the Mavs.
“It was just one game,” he said, with a smile. “Still got 81 to go.”
The game began with both teams showing some signs of rust, but the Mavericks were shooting it better than the Suns were. I had my eye on Cam Johnson in his first game as a regular starter, and he was holding his own albeit against a not particularly physical Mavs frontcourt.
CAM SLAM.@efirstbank Money Drive of the Game pic.twitter.com/6ahh4fAFWD— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 20, 2022
But what the Suns sorely lacked was the same defensive intensity we’ve come to expect from this team for two years. Dallas hit some tough shots, especially Doncic, and there were some nice blocks, but the Mavericks were penetrating far too easily and their shooters repeatedly had comfortable cushions. The Suns started doubling Doncic up high, but it wasn’t especially effective as he was able to pass out of the double teams and create quality scoring chances for his teammates. Some would say that’s where a Jae Crowder is missed.
The game was threatening to turn into a rout midway through the second quarter as the Suns just couldn’t execute on either end. Even Booker missed some chip shots, and it was looking to be one of those nights, unfortunately.
It’s also impossible to ignore the role the refs’ whistles played in this half. Both Deandre Ayton and Jock Landale were on the bench with foul trouble most of the second quarter.
The Suns stemmed the bleeding with a nice stop leading to a Mikal Bridges layup to close out the half, but it was clear they had a lot of work to do, trailing 45-62 at the half.
Booker led the Suns scoring for the first half, tallying 15 points on 5/11 shooting despite some rough misses. Bridges followed with 10 points on 4/7 shooting. Ayton was essentially a non factor, playing only seven first half minutes.
Doncic was in control for Dallas, with 20 points on 6/10 shooting. Spencer Dinwiddie had 13 points on 5/9 shooting.
Talk about a turnaround. The pace of play picked up to start the second half, and not long into the third quarter the Suns went on a 7-0 run that cut the lead to 67-52. The home team kept at it, and a nice pullup triple from Cam Johnson cut the lead to only 11. This thing wasn’t over. A couple of minutes later, what had been a blowout was a 6 point game.
When the horn sounded, the Suns had outscored Dallas 31-19 in the frame and now trailed by only five. The defensive intensity was FAR better from Phoenix, and Ayton made a big difference both preventing several would-be easy buckets for Dallas and in cashing in on several opportunities with baskets of his own. The energy level from the team and the fans was finally there.
Putback and 1 pic.twitter.com/tbs3D4rmdM— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 20, 2022
But Christian Wood hit some huge threes early in the 4th quarter that basically derailed the Suns’ 3rd quarter momentum. The lead stretched out to double digits again, but once more the Suns battled back. Cam Payne layed it in off a Booker assist to put the Suns up 101-100.
Damion Lee, who had himself a fine night, hit a big triple to stretch the lead to four.
WHEN IT MATTERED MOST.@PayPal Highlight of the Game. pic.twitter.com/SmvFsDJXC8— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) October 20, 2022
Doncic tied the game with an and-1, and Lee, apparently keen to make an impression with his new team, hit the game winner for the Suns with just a few seconds remaining.
Suns win! 107-105
Booker led the scoring for Phoenix with 28 points. Ayton was next with an efficient 18 points to go with his 10 rebounds. Lee, the hero tonight, had 11 points to lead the bench.
Doncic had 35 points for Dallas, and wood had 25.
I’ve got whiplash after that one, but it was great to see the Suns overcome a terrible first half to get the season-opening win. The game did indeed showcase how Jae Crowder is missed, and the lack of punch in the second unit was apparent in comparison to what Wood brought for Dallas.
But the Suns got the job done, and that’s what matters most.
The Suns head to Portland to take on the Blazers Friday. Dallas returns home to take on the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.