DAN BICKLEY

Game 7: The greatest 2 words in sports, only if Phoenix Suns win

May 12, 2022, 10:29 PM | Updated: May 13, 2022, 11:10 am

DALLAS – Game 7. Two of the greatest words in the vernacular of sports.

Unless you cheer for the Suns.

Buckle up, Valley sports fans. The best regular-season team in the NBA is testing our nerves. And their own.

“I don’t think we understood the desperation they were going to play with,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “Couple that with the turnovers we had tonight, and it’s a recipe for what we just got.”

Bizarre. How many times have we heard that same lament this postseason alone?

There was a time when the Suns were the best road team in basketball. That is no longer the case. They scored 86 points and shot 39.7% from the field in a potential closeout game. And from the second quarter on, there wasn’t a whole lot of belief evident on the floor in American Airlines Center on Thursday.

Luka Doncic wanted all the smoke, dominating almost every defender sent his way. His teammates made their open shots. The Mavericks made 10 more three-point shots than the Suns and attempted 21 more from beyond the arc. This was a different kind of Luka Special.

Alas, we’ve seen this game before.

“We’ll look at the film and see what we have to do better,” Chris Paul said. “The only saving grace in this situation is we get to go home.”

The Suns have gained a treasure trove of playoff experience in the past two seasons. Thursday’s 27-point loss to the Mavericks was the 34th playoff game since Paul arrived in Phoenix. But as a group, they have no Game 7 experience to draw on. And after another blowout loss on the road, it’s fair to wonder about the vulnerability and mental health of this basketball team.

Paul was again largely ineffective, wearing the toll of continuous full-court pressure and heavy minutes on defense against bigger opponents. He seemed extremely relieved that the Suns will have an additional day to recover before Sunday’s tipoff.

After a raucous performance in Game 5, there was a hope that the Suns had finally found themselves. That they finally had elevated over the pesky Mavericks and were ready to move forward in their pursuit of a championship. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

Devin Booker went silent for the middle two quarters. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder were non-factors. The Suns committed 22 turnovers, giving them 56 in three games at Dallas. Sixteen of those turnovers came on Dallas steals. In sum, it was one of the most disorganized offensive performances of the season.

“I always say turnovers are like interceptions,” Paul said.

Meanwhile, for the second consecutive game, Cam Payne and JaVale McGee were out of the rotation. Aaron Holiday never got off the bench, even in mop-up duty. You wonder if the Suns have lost their footing, their identity and a chunk of their swagger.

After the game, Williams sensed a realization inside the locker room that the Mavericks had played harder than the Suns. This is another recurring issue that has shaken the faith on Planet Orange, where the encore postseason has been a weird mixture of euphoria and slog.

Here’s the silver lining:  The Suns’ relentless focus and preparation during the regular season earned them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Their dedication and respect for the sport will give them an army of support on Sunday, when they will need it the most.

Game 7.

“You to embrace it,” Williams said.

Game 7.

“It’s win or go home,” Paul said.

Game 7.

“Greatest two words in sports,” Booker said.

Only if you win.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

Penguin Air
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) and center Dwight Powell (7) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives to the basket past Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock (25) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) shoots against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) shoots over Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock, left, during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) advances the ball against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots over Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) is fueled by Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock (25) as guard Luka Doncic (77) looks on during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) shoots over Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) shoots past Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) and forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) drives around Dallas Mavericks forward Davis Bertans, right, during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd, left, talks with referee Courtney Kirkland (61) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) moves the ball up court against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, drives around Dallas Mavericks forward Davis Bertans (44) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) shoots over Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo (18) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock (25) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Landry Shamet (14) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) drives around Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams signals to his players during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Landry Shamet (14) shoots over Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber (42) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) moves the ball up court against the Dallas Mavericks during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson, right, drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) loses control of the ball after he was fouled by Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber, right, during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson (23) collides with Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) as he drives with the ball during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) loses control of the ball after he was fouled by Dallas Mavericks forward Maxi Kleber, right, during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) drives around Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, left, during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock (25) shoots against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) and forward Cameron Johnson (23) during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives with the ball against Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, left, during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket past Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton, right, during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, left, during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson (13) drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, left, during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, left, drives to the basket past Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) passes the ball around Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) hangs on the rim over Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, after scoring during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) scores against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket as Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) and guard Chris Paul (3) look on during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, left, is pressured by Phoenix Suns forward Cameron Johnson, right, during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks forward Davis Bertans, right, is fouled by Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, left, as he drives to the basket during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) shoots past Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig (0) during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, left, drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns forward Torrey Craig (0) during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock (25) races up court with teammate Luka Doncic (77) past Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, center, after a steal during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock (25) reacts after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban celebrates after the team's win over Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, left, Deandre Ayton, center, and Jae Crowder (99) stand near the bench during the final moments of the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Dallas Mavericks, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Phoenix Suns players walk off the court after their loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks guard Frank Ntilikina (21) and Phoenix Suns guard Cameron Payne (15) chase a loose ball during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) 
              Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) is fouled by Dallas Mavericks forward Reggie Bullock (25) as guard Luka Doncic (77) looks on during the first half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
            Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, center, drives to the basket against Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, left, and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul, right, during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban celebrates the team's win over the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez) Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns walk off the court while taking on the Dallas Mavericks in the fourth quarter of Game Six of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals at American Airlines Center on May 12, 2022 in Dallas, Texas.(Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks passes the ball against Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns in the third quarter of Game Six of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals at American Airlines Center on May 12, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

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