NBA schedule gives Devin Booker, Suns an early shot at redemption

Aug 18, 2022, 7:27 PM
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against Reggie Bullock #25 of the Dallas Maver...
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball against Reggie Bullock #25 of the Dallas Mavericks during the first half in Game Seven of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Western Conference Semifinals at Footprint Center on May 15, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Most rivalries come from the same bloodline. They are born from geography and tradition. They stand the test of time.

But the best rivalries are volcanic eruptions, spontaneous combustions, spawned from the fires of contempt. They burn hot and they burn out fast, when a score is finally settled.

They are Jordan’s Bulls against the Bad Boy Pistons. They are Terrell Suggs’ Ravens against Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers.

They are the Suns and the Mavericks, a grimy grudge-fest that will resume on Opening Night in Phoenix, a rivalry best defined by the names on the back of the jerseys.

When last seen, the Mavericks were whooping and hollering their way out of Footprint Center, having dealt the Suns one of the most embarrassing losses in NBA history. The Suns trailed by 30 points at home, at halftime, in a Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. The crowd was stunned, shocked and reduced to audible gasps. Those in the building will never forget those awful sounds.

When it was over, many of the Dallas players were openly mocking Phoenix fans who chanted “Suns in Four!” after Game 2.

“Suns in what?” they collectively chanted after Game 7. “Suns in what?”

I watched them all thunder their way to the locker room. And then I saw Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd throw me a wink, a former player who once ran the show in Phoenix, who knew exactly what he had done to the Suns.

The series was full of antagonists. After a scorching victory that staked the Suns to a 2-0 series lead, Devin Booker and Chris Paul seemed to identify Luka Doncic as the pigeon, the weak link on the opposing defense. During Game 5, Booker trolled Doncic by playing dead under the basket, only to raise his head, glance at a fan and call his performance the “Luka Special.”

In retrospect, it was an embarrassing and extremely rare display of immaturity.

Doncic responded with the force of Thor’s hammer. He called out the Suns for being classic frontrunners, for yapping when things are going their way. He had as many points at halftime of Game 7 as the entire Suns team (27). He put Booker in his place, something few NBA players have ever been able to accomplish.

This isn’t the first time the Suns/Mavericks have flashed as a rivalry. In a previous era, Steve Nash badly wanted to prove Mark Cuban wrong, the Mavericks owner who wouldn’t pay Nash over fears of his long-term health. Nash settled that score by winning consecutive MVP trophies.

As fruits of the 2018 NBA Draft began to bloom, a Suns-Mavericks rivalry seemed inevitable and unavoidable, forever tied to the careers of Doncic and Deandre Ayton, who was selected No. 1 overall and two spots ahead of the Mavericks superstar.

Now, it has gone from simmer to boil. They have JaVale McGee. We have an NBA team in desperate need of revenge. We have a point guard who might still be angry over the treatment of his mother at American Airlines Center. But moving forward, it’s really Doncic against Booker. Heavyweight against heavyweight. The way the NBA demands.

Kobe Bryant once wrote the words, “Be Legendary” on a pair of shoes he gifted to Booker. But Doncic showed Booker how it’s done, temporarily booting him from the head table of the NBA elite. And now it’s time for atonement, starting with a pound of flesh on Opening Night.

Dan Bickley

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns in the second half at Crypto.com Arena on March 22, 2023 in Los...
Dan Bickley

Suns crying foul hints at problems between their ears

The Suns have been tagged as a flopping, foul-hunting, fall-down-after-every-shot kind of team. You don’t think that comes with consequences?
5 days ago
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams, left, reacts to referee CJ Washington (12) during the first...
Dan Bickley

Complaints about whistles by Suns distract from their real problems

The Suns have glaring holes that they are hoping Kevin Durant can fix. And it's hard to say they're working to patch those holes.
13 days ago
Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns signs autographs before the game against the Chicago Bulls at ...
Dan Bickley

Feeling like Griswold: Suns fans left waiting for Kevin Durant’s home debut after scratch

Durant was a late scratch on Wednesday, a letdown for a sold-out crowd anticipating one of the most celebrated home debuts in Suns history.
19 days ago
Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns signs autographs before the game against the Chicago Bulls at ...
Dan Bickley

Kevin Durant’s home debut for Suns will reignite Valley

When Kevin Durant takes the court Wednesday for his first home game in Phoenix, the atmosphere will be overwhelming.
21 days ago
Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at Fiserv F...
Dan Bickley

Phoenix Suns’ Kevin Durant can finish the job many before him could not

Barkley delivered the laughs. Nash started a revolution. Book and CP3 rekindled a love affair. Kevin Durant can finish the job.
27 days ago
New Arizona Cardinals head coach Jonathan Gannon answers a question from the media during a press c...
Dan Bickley

Cardinals’ new coaching staff is impossibly green by NFL standards

First-time head coach Jonathan Gannon is 40 years old. His first-time DC Nick Rallis is 29. Together, they are younger than Bruce Arians.
1 month ago
NBA schedule gives Devin Booker, Suns an early shot at redemption