Suns play best ball of year vs. Mavs, await Blazers’ result for play-in fate
The Phoenix Suns have done everything they could do, and that’ll be more than good enough for head coach Monty Williams.
“It’s probably been the highlight of my head coaching career,” Williams said of the bubble. “How much fun I’ve had here with our guys. It has been a blast.”
A 128-102 win over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday clinched an 8-0 perfect bubble for the Suns, but the story was the Memphis Grizzlies beating the Milwaukee Bucks at the same time.
“I could sit here and tell you I wasn’t (checking the Memphis score) but they had the thing right there in front of you,” Williams said. “I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t looking.”
That means the Suns need a loss by the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night to make the play-in game(s), a tough ask considering Damian Lillard’s form and a shorthanded Brooklyn Nets roster that Portland will be facing.
But, again, the Suns took care of business in a way that should make them proud of what they’ve accomplished.
“I think you learn,” Devin Booker said of chasing a playoff spot this late into the season. “You get in these situations, a lot of people will tell you: when you’re that close to making the playoffs or a game out, you look back on all the times during the season where there’s just that little detail-oriented mess-up that you had.
“So the game is a thin line between winning and losing and you have to stay locked at all times and I think we learned that down here.”
Phoenix played its best first half of the season against Dallas, and you could argue that’s the case even when not taking into consideration this being the biggest game of the season.
Booker scored 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting and the bench trio of Cameron Payne, Jevon Carter and Dario Saric shot 9-for-10 combined for 27 points. The Suns had 17 assists and only two turnovers.
If it wasn’t for All-Star Luka Doncic scoring 18 points in 13 minutes, it would have been an even bigger rout than a 19-point Suns halftime lead.
With the Mavericks having nothing to play for, that was all we’d see of Doncic.
After a quick 4-0 run by Dallas to open the second half, Williams called a timeout.
He had seen his team in the last two games have a letdown in the first quarter with key players sitting, and with Doncic on the bench, perhaps this was going to be part three.
The Suns, though, responded with a 13-2 run in 2:02 of game time to make it a 26-point lead.
That basically sealed the deal.
Williams said at one point in the huddle he addressed the other game going on, saying he would have been a hypocrite if he told them it wasn’t on his mind, either. Deandre Ayton was mic’d up and was heard speaking as if the season was over, and Booker said in his postgame interview that he was “very aware” of the Grizzlies score.
So, with that in mind, for the Suns to smoke the Mavericks the way they did is a pretty remarkable feat when they could have easily been distracted as a young team who has “never been there before.”
Booker had 27 points in 32 minutes and did not play in the fourth quarter.
With the win, the Suns eliminated the San Antonio Spurs from the playoffs, and the only possibility for a play-in opponent is now the Grizzlies.
It might have been a different story if the Suns got to 8-0 with another one of those “ugly” wins they grabbed a few of in Orlando, but they came out against the Mavericks and flat-out executed to perfection.
Mikal Bridges said after Tuesday’s win that he was interested to see if the team could really translate everything they’ve done so well thus far with the season on the line.
They did, and that’s something this group can take into next season if the clock reads “Dame Time” Thursday night, or into a play-in against the Grizzlies if it does not.
Williams laughed when he was asked after the game in terms of what they will do together as a team. The thought of watching a game that way has to be hilarious to an NBA coach.
The Suns’ energy certainly didn’t reflect like complete heartbreak of missing the playoffs, and that’s because they know how important what they’ve done will be for them in the future.
“I think we’ve gained the respect of the league, and that’s huge,” Williams said.
“You want your guys to have a bar and once we started to play a certain way, I was able to hold them to something. And that’s what we’ve done here. We’ve raised the bar, and now I have another reference point for these guys who can always refer to this time where every one of our games was a Game 7 and our guys brought it every single night.”