Just a week ago today, the Phoenix Suns broke an interminable five month hiatus by opening the new season playing the same team that had knocked them out of the 2022 Playoffs.
“That’s the NBA,” head coach Monty Williams said with a shake of his head, at how the league thought it would be a good idea to open the new season by making the Suns replay that fateful Game 7, where the Suns lost at home to the upstart Dallas Mavericks by 33, or was it 300?, points.
“It’s just one game,” guard Devin Booker said before the season opener. “Whatever happens, win by 30, lose by 30, there’s still 81 games to go.”
Yes it’s just one game of 82, and no it didn’t really mean anything — especially in context of a playoff loss — but it felt... weird. And monumental. And legacy-defining, somehow.
Most of all, it felt like no time had passed since that fateful Sunday in May, throwing the Suns right back into that nightmare.
“I feel you on that,” Suns head coach Monty Williams says of that vibe. “It was just a weird day, you know. It was almost like Game 7 happened the day before.”
The game started poorly, but then the Suns stood tall and shook off the demons, and found themselves again. They erased a 22-point deficit in the third and even another 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win the game over Dallas. You can bet the players and coach let out a sigh of relief.
“It was a weird day,” Williams said again. “But it seems like we are starting to just turn the page and play the kind of basketball we’re capable of playing.”
In the span of one short week, they’ve gone from being a walking-dead punchline to dominating two of the teams picked to finish ahead of them in the West with a 17-point win over the LA Clippers and a 29-point win over defending champ Golden State Warriors.
The win over the Warriors, in particular, reminds Suns fans of that 64-win, Conference-Champ-defending team for the first time since probably April.
Of course, for the Suns, that Game 7 won’t ever go away.
“We’re not going to let one bad night define our careers,” Booker said to me after Tuesday’s win over Golden State. “And looking at it, there was only one winner last year... So that’s not the time to pack up the bags and retire, from losing one game. We’re going to keep moving forward, keep playing.”
All-Star Devin Booker has been his best self this season, carrying the Suns to that comeback over Dallas and starting the season averaging 32.5 points a game on 53/48/88 splits while dishing 5.8 assists per game over the first four.
He even pissed off four-time champ Klay Thompson so badly on Tuesday night that, while Book was on his way to scoring 30+ again in a big Suns win, Klay missed every shot when defended by Book and then got himself tossed from the game (for the first time in his 10-year career) for losing his cool.
“I love Klay Thompson,” Book said after. “I have for a really long time. That does not excuse us from being competitors and talking to each other. I have always admired his game, how he plays on both sides of the ball. Obviously, the rings speak for themselves, but I am going to bring it every time.”
Book brought it. Klay didn’t. He apparently just kept blurting ‘four rings’ over and over as Book calmly reminded Klay they are nothing like each other. Booker finished with 34 points and the 29-point win. Klay finished with 2 points and an early shower.
“If people try to compare us as players,” Book said flatly. “There’s nothing there.”
His Suns are now 3-1 in the middle of an opening gauntlet against teams that are otherwise 8-3 against the rest of the league. The Suns only loss, at the last-second in overtime, was to a Portland team that’s 4-0 and blew out the Denver Nuggets by 25 points on Monday night.
One short week.
One short week to hush the naysayers who questioned the Suns ability to get past that bad loss to Dallas in the playoffs. And not just national observers. Their own fans, many of whom frequent this lovely blog on a daily basis, must now be wondering if maybe just maybe we were too skeptical of this team’s ability to put the past behind them.
“Regardless of that they say, we have a tight group in house,” Booker says. “So we lean on each other, and we block out the outside noise. Obviously people are going to say that, with how we went out last year, but that’s just life. We just keep moving forward.”
Indeed, the Suns are moving forward quickly. That elephant will always be in the room, at least until next summer’s playoffs, but at least it’s no longer sitting on the Suns’ chests.
The Suns play the surgent New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.
NOLA’s exactly who you thought they were, Suns fans, bringing that same hard working mentality to the new season that they showed against the Suns in the playoffs last spring. NOLA is 3-1 this season, just like the Suns, with good wins over the Nets and Mavericks.
Quite the opening five-game stretch for the Suns this year, huh? By Friday night, they’ll have already played both 2022 playoff opponents and two of the favorites to win the West this season.