“It got real scary.”
Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges made a guest appearance on the Old Man and the Three podcast, hosted by former NBA player JJ Redick and Tommy Alter. Bridges appearance was the first by a Suns player since immediately after their record-setting 33-point game seven loss at home to the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the 2022 NBA Playoffs.
After making the Finals a year ago and winning a club record 64 games in the regular season, the Suns came into the series as the heavy favorite to not only beat the Mavericks but to make the Finals again, and they went up 2-0 in the series to take a commanding lead.
But then it all got muddy. The Mavericks won both games in Dallas before the Suns seemed to right the ship with a 30-point win in Phoenix in game five to take a once-again commanding 3-2 series lead.
Except, to the Suns, it wasn’t ‘commanding’ anymore once they lost game six in Dallas.
“When we went up 3-2, we all had a feeling we were going to win in Dallas,” Bridges tells JJ Redick. “And then once they won... now it’s up for grabs. I don’t think you feel the home court advantage as much because they’re so confident and there’s really nothing to lose.”
To that point, the Suns were 4-1 in playoff series since Chris Paul had joined the team, and all four series were closed out on the road — game six in LA over the Lakers, game four in Denver, game six in LA against the Clippers and game six in New Orleans.
But Dallas did not acquiesce to the Suns expectations. In fact, the Mavericks won Game 6 handily (by 27 points) and suddenly the Suns were left to face their first game seven together with a 3-3 series tie. Game seven is both a close-out game and an elimination game. The Suns were 4-1 in non-elimination closeout games, but just 0-1 (Bucks) in their only game facing elimination.
Looking back now, the team was not mentally ready to handle another elimination game.
The Mavericks truly had nothing to lose, and the Suns played as if they had everything to lose. The Mavericks played free and clean, while the Suns looked like they just could not get it together.
An early 10-3 Mavs lead ballooned to 21-10. A 10-point deficit after one quarter snowballed.
“It’s always sometimes tough at home,” Bridges said, recalling that first half. “Where the other team goes on a run and you miss it, you could hear your crowd (sighing) ‘hahh’...‘ahhh’...‘AHHH’, you’re like okay we get it g*dd**mit, we know, we know. So now it’s a little mental to you.”
Let me describe Mikal’s tone of voice. He’s telling the story like he’s sitting at a table with you, describing the worst rejection of his life by the girl of his dreams with the whole school watching. Laughing at himself, at the horror of the moment as he’s sharing his vulnerabilities. Except in this case it’s not the girl of his dreams. It’s 20,000 adoring fans who want him to make the shot just as badly as he wants to make it.
“On the road, you miss and they’re cheering and you’re like f that, I’m gonna make the next one,” he goes on to say. “So you just have a little more pressure at home because you’re supposed to win and the crowd knows it too, and they got their emotions. So once you start missing...and you hear them sighs...now it starts getting to people sometimes.”
By the end of the first half, the Suns were not only down 30 points, but they’d only scored 27! That’s a 54-point full-game pace by a team that averages 115 per game for the season.
“I just look up, I see the score,” he recalls. “And I’m like, man, going into half down 30, it’s just ridiculous. And now it’s just like, coming back out you gotta start off hot, out the jump in the third. If not, you don’t really have a chance. And then, we couldn’t even score coming out.”
“I don’t even know how that happened,” Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson admitted after the game, unable to put into words how the Mavericks dominated the game in record fashion.
Bridges gave a ton of credit to the Mavericks for making the right adjustments, for making it really tough on their two best players, Devin Booker and Chris Paul. He gave all of the players credit, including their role players for gaining and keeping their confidence, which helped Dallas make 48% of their open threes for the series (by contrast, Dallas made only 33% of their open threes against the Warriors... and don’t talk about the Warriors being better on defense — open threes are open threes).
Just like us, just like the rest of the world, Bridges never ever expected Dallas to be the team to beat them.
“Didn’t think that would happen. Especially Dallas,” Bridges said. “Dallas is good, but besides this playoffs I don’t think I lost, the Suns had lost to them in years. Every time we play them, oh we have their number and then... the m%*er-f*@kers got us.”
Through game two of the series, the Suns had won 11 consecutive games against the Mavericks, dating back to 2019 in Mikal’s rookie season.
But none of that matters.
All that matters is how that game seven went. The Suns were down by 40 points before either of their All-NBA players made a shot. No one else stepped up either. Bridges missed almost every shot he took. Same for the other role players. Their shooting percentage was in the 20s for most of the game.
“I was definitely embarrassed,” Bridges said. “It sucks.”
No one is going to remember the Suns had the best regular season in franchise history, with 64 wins. No one is going to remember they have the most wins over the past two years. No one is going to remember they made the NBA Finals with this same core a year ago, that they have won four for their six playoff series together.
All people will remember is that 33-point loss in game seven.
“For sure. It’s gonna be known,” Bridges lamented. “Every time there’s a game seven, you just know it’s gonna be thrown there. It’s gonna be. Whenever there’s a game seven, or just the playoffs in general... JJ, you know. All they’re gonna remember is that game seven. Not even the series. They’re just gonna remember that game seven. Getting ready for next year, all they’re gonna talk about is ‘you remember what happened in game seven?’.”
Give a listen to the podcast here. Bridges and the hosts discuss game seven in the first 10 minutes of the show.