It’s been three days, and I still can’t get over the utter lack of emotion displayed by the Phoenix Suns coach and All-Star players in the postgame presser minutes after the embarrassing Game 7 loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
To give them the benefit of the doubt, let’s chalk it up to shock. When a human being goes into shock, their emotions are tamped down as the body tries to simply navigate through the muck of the situation at hand.
Shock is the kindest way to describe a presser where the coach said ‘off night’ four different times, the All-Star point guard said ‘sh-t happens’ and only once said ‘I think’ it was his responsibility to have played better, and the All-Star shooting guard said he was just trying to make the right plays while not making a shot until his team was already down 40 points.
A season which saw the Suns break several franchise regular season records, including total wins (64), road wins (32) and longest winning streak (18) among others, ended with them setting a league record for worst home loss in a Game 7 since Game 7s were invented more than half a century ago.
“I just told them how bad I hurt for them,” Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams says of his postgame comments to the team. “I know they didn’t want to play that way. We basically played the worst game of the season tonight, and that group has a lot of character and integrity. And I know how bad they wanted it.”
Hmm. Sure didn’t look that way. Looked to me and many who watched the game like they didn’t want it at all. One of the league’s best offenses scored only 5 points in the first 6 minutes of the game, and just 27 points in the entire first half.
Their two best players, Devin Booker and Chris Paul, are both All-Stars (Top 12 of 225+ Western Conference Players through half the season) and All-NBA (Top 15 of 450+ players league-wide for the season), yet they played worse than a pair of 10-day call ups from the G-League.
Booker and Paul combined to shoot 0-12 from the field, dish 3 assists and commit 4 turnovers through the first 2.5 quarters of the most important game of the year. They were right there, for almost all of the game minutes, helping their team get down by 40... to a Mavericks team they’d blown out by an average of 19 points per game in the three previous home games of the series.
When I say most important game of the year, I’m not using hyberbole. This Suns team was favored by all the oddsmakers to win the championship, which requires winning four straight best-of-seven series in the playoffs to be the last team standing. They were the unanimous pick to win this second round series against the Mavericks, expected to get their four wins in six games or less. And they had a 3-2 lead after five games, stamped by a 30-blowout just last Tuesday night, needing just one win in the last two games to move on.
But then the wheels fell off. They lost Game 6 in Dallas by 27 points, even though they’d been 4-0 in their four prior chances to close out a playoff series on the road (Lakers, Nuggets, Clippers in 2021 and Pelicans in 2022) and had the best road record in the league this year.
No matter. They had three days to prep for Game 7 at home. They said on Saturday they were locked in. Game 7, for all the marbles.
Down by an NBA-record 30 points at halftime (57-27). Down by 40 by mid-third quarter (72-32). The final margin of 33 points was just window dressing in a game they effectively could have lost by 60.
“That’s life,” Williams said at another point in his 10 minute presser. “We just had a bad night.”
The two All-Stars, who watched the end of Monty’s presser from the sideline before taking questions, weren’t any more emotional in their post-game comments.
(side note: Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer teared up in his presser after the Bucks lost their second-round Game 7 by 20+ points on the same day)
“You can have those nights during the regular season,” All-Star Devin Booker said. “And you can have them here and there when shots can’t fall, and I think it just happened to be the wrong timing on it in a Game 7.”
Um. Yeah, Book.
“We didn’t defend, we didn’t make shots tonight and it sucks when it happens this point of the season. But sh-t happens,” fellow All-Star Chris Paul chimed in.
Bad night. Wrong timing. Sh-t happens.
THIS WAS GAME 7.
You spent the entire season over-full of confidence, certain that you’re the team no one wants to play for 48 whole minutes because you wear them down. Certain that you play harder than anyone else. Certain that you’ve got the players, the scheme and execution to beat anyone at any time.
Shades to post-game pressers. Appropriated ‘F*** Jae Crowder’ T-Shirts. Side-eyes to each other how easy it was to punk one of the game’s best players in Luka Doncic.
Ultimately, they were the ones who got punked.
All playoffs, Monty Williams said they needed to have ‘appropriate fear’ of their opponents even if they were favored to win or sweep them. And he thought that was generous. The Suns should have just felt plain old fear, because what they exhibited was too much assumption and too little execution.
“We had an off night, we probably had an inconsistent two weeks if I’m being honest,” Williams said.
Two opening wins, topped off by a second half takeover and targeting of Luka Doncic on defense that left Doncic slumping and playing like a traffic cone. Followed by two blowout losses in Dallas. Followed by a 30-point win at home. Followed by another pair of blowout losses to lose the series.
In the end, it was Doncic mercilessly turning Paul into the traffic cone.
“All year long, we’ve been hearing all the praises, winning all the games and setting records and all that stuff and we’ve been taking it,” Williams said. “Well tonight, you have to take it. That’s a part of manhood. There are days when it doesn’t go away, and you have to stand right there and show character and integrity and take it. That’s life.”
Now the Suns have become the laughingstock of the league. Podcasts, radio shows, TV programs have all thrown mountains of pent-up shade at the Suns demise, ruining a freshly built reputation of competence and culture that won more games than any other NBA team in the last 24 months.
But two games and 60 points in losses later, the Suns franchise is once again a punchline.
“It’s tough,” Booker said of the loss, and the way it unfolded. “It’s going to be a few weeks of trying to clear our heads and get away from this.”
Maybe more than a few weeks, Book. The online slander is not going away any time soon.
“But the bonus is we get family time,” he said. “We withstood a 100-game season, and a lot of our families make sacrifices around our schedule and now, we get to tend to them a little bit.”
That’s true. Since the December 2020, the Suns have played 189 games in 18 months. To put that in perspective, a non-pandemic schedule would have given them two more months off between the end of the Finals last year and the beginning of this season.
Chris Paul has been knocked out of the playoffs 15 times now in his career, so he’s got some experience in this. What does he say to the team?
“Probably no greater message than, ‘Get to work’,” he said. “At the end of the day, you at least want a shot at it. We was one of 16 teams in the playoffs. It was great regular season, but we didn’t reach our goal. So I don’t think anything matters but everyone trying to get better from last season.”
Yes, everyone does need to work on their games to get better for next season. But a lot of what happened these playoffs is that everyone simply took a step back, and in the end they lost their identity.
Still, you can only look forward and not backward.
“It’s tough. Obviously, we got further last year but didn’t reach the goal,” Paul said. “We got a lot of young guys on our team and I think this experience in the playoffs is better than not. So I think, going back to the drawing board, try to figure out. (Suns) coach (Monty Williams) says it all the time, ‘We get a chance to play basketball. We compete, we want to win more than anybody.’ So it’s unfortunate in the fashion that we lost, but we got to try to figure out ways to get better.”
Chris Paul did make one comment on taking ownership for the terrible game beyond ‘whoops it was a bad night’. So that’s something.
“I think Mont said that’s on him but I think that’s on me, the point guard, the leader of the team,” Paul said. “To make sure we get the right shots and all that. But that is what it is.”
Take the ‘I think’ out and you’ve got it, Chris.