DAN BICKLEY

Pressure is on Phoenix Suns to make up for last year, deliver this postseason

Apr 11, 2023, 5:30 PM

Chris Paul #3 talks with Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns during the first half agains...

Chris Paul #3 talks with Head coach Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at Footprint Center on April 06, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona.(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Pressure kills in the NBA playoffs.

Teams with foundational cracks will suffer. Those hiding weaknesses will be exposed. Teams with poor leadership will quickly yield to their superiors.

The Western Conference is wide open. The best teams have gaudy winning percentages. The underdogs have pedigree and star power. It feels like a referendum on the credibility of the NBA’s regular season, a bloated exercise fast becoming one of the biggest farces in professional sports.

But the NBA playoffs are hardcore. There is extreme pressure on the top-seeded Denver Nuggets, where Nikola Jokic must validate his MVP trophies. There is significant stress on Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics, runners-up from a year ago. There will be a hotter spotlight on the Philadelphia 76ers’ star Joel Embiid, likely the incoming MVP. And all eyes are on Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, who can erase most of the recent weirdness with a spectacular playoff run.

There is also a great deal of pressure in Phoenix, where Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Monty Williams all carry playoff albatrosses of varying weight.

Paul has never won a championship in his Hall of Fame career, and his postseason legacy is beset by injuries, misfortune and Scott Foster. Booker must atone for his shoddy performances in Games 6 and 7 against the Mavericks, where he was anything but legendary. And Williams has largely skated for his disastrous performance in last year’s playoffs, where he was badly outcoached by a former assistant (Willie Green); where he was cornered into unseemly checkmate from former Suns star Jason Kidd, who winked at me on his way out of Footprint Center, keenly aware of the wreckage he left behind.

Williams couldn’t rein in a 64-win team gone astray; repair bridges; match wits; settle on a rotation; or save a celebrated culture gone wrong. He will surely be under the new owner’s microscope in the coming weeks.

The NBA playoffs are an extreme test of mental fortitude. The pressure mounts, the game slows down and the physicality increases. Simple possessions are intensified, complicated by heightened defensive tenacity. Tempers flare and pressure mounts. Lesser players crack. Aging players snap. It’s not for martyrs or the faint of heart.

This is not the time to be playing to the referees, hunting for fouls, looking for excuses.

This time, the Suns must be ready for pressure. Built for pressure. Aligned and allied with pressure.

This is the time to act and play like champions. This team has had enough practice, even without Kevin Durant. This team has had enough heartbreak.

And we have waited long enough.

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