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Dan Bickley

Suns in need of solutions, few good men after NBA Finals’ Game 5 loss

Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns huddles his team during a time out against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half in Game Five of the NBA Finals at Footprint Center on July 17, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Our dream season is slipping away. Near the top of the mountain, our NBA team has acquired a case of vertigo. It has been a long time since the Suns have won a basketball game.

The Valley is in need of solutions, antacid and a few good men.

They had only one on Saturday night.

A 123-119 loss to the Bucks did more than push the Suns on the brink of extinction. It put Valley fans through the ringer. When it was over, pockets of stunned fans couldn’t summon the energy to leave their seats.

What a disaster.

“It’s tough,” Devin Booker said. “We came out and did what we intended to do, get off to a great start. And we let it go. They stayed resilient and they kept playing through. So, tough loss for us.”

The Suns dominated the opening quarter. Footprint Center set an unofficial world record on Saturday: Loudest debut crowd in the history of newly-named arenas. The Suns held a 16-point lead after 12 minutes of basketball. They were relentless on both ends of the court.

The Bucks responded with two of the most impressive quarters of road basketball in Finals history. The Suns went soft, losing all defensive intensity. It ended with the most impactful play by an opposing defender since James Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner in the Super Bowl.

With a chance to win the game, Booker had the matchup he wanted. He had torched P.J. Tucker all night. He drove the lane and turned around. And that’s where he found Jrue Holiday, waiting like a thief in the night. Holiday swiped the ball from Booker. The rest are all details.

“A great play by Jrue,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “Don’t have any other words for that one. I just watched. He just makes a great play.”

Remember when the Bucks looked hopelessly overmatched after the first two games in Phoenix? Since then, Holiday has changed the course of this series more than Patrick Beverley did in the Western Conference Finals. More to the point, the Bucks’ Big Three are outplaying the trio of stars in Phoenix, and it isn’t even close.

Booker was tremendous, scoring 40 points. Paul made some big shots, but he only played at an elite level in the first quarter, when he playing fast, forcing tempo and getting into the lane. Deandre Ayton is back to posting numbers and not making a forceful impact.

“We took our foot off the gas,” Mikal Bridges said.

“We’ve got to get the ball moving and make their defense work,” Williams said.

The most depressing element is that the Suns are losing in strange and ugly ways. They are clearly marginalized by injuries to Paul, but they are playing too much isolation basketball. They have yielded monstrous offensive quarters to the Bucks in the past three games, failing to sustain the determination and grit necessary to win a NBA championship.

“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Paul said. “We didn’t expect it to be. It’s hard. Coach said it all year long. Everything we want is on the other side of hard, and it don’t get no harder than this.”

The Suns have now created the same scenario that led to our only major professional championship in the Valley. The Diamondbacks won the first two games of the 2001 World Series with relative ease. They lost three consecutive games that nearly ripped our hearts out of our chests. They won the final two home games to secure the trophy.

Problem is, that baseball team had Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. And our NBA team doesn’t know where to turn or look anything like the juggernaut that won 14 of its first 18 playoff games.

“Tables are turned now,” Ayton said. “Now we’re the desperate team.”

Will desperation be enough? The Suns failed to rebound in their first home game following a postseason loss. That’s disconcerting. They haven’t won a game since July 8, their longest stretch since they were shut down and quarantined in January for COVID-19 exposure.

They need to find something and fast, or risk soiling one of the greatest basketball seasons in franchise history.

Before the game, Williams coined a new phrase. He said “you can’t find greatness on the beach.” And this time, the Suns are going to have to find it in Milwaukee.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.


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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier