The topic of the postseason is atonement. It’s a term that doesn’t start with the letter “L.”
Unfortunately, the Suns’ postseason record does not reflect this.
Our road to redemption started with a big mark on Sunday night: a 115-110 defeat to the Clippers, which gave the opponent early momentum and home-court advantage.
It marks the first time in a playoff series that Devin Booker’s Suns have lost Game 1. It is also Kevin Durant’s first defeat as a part of the Suns’ lineup. It is not cause for alarm, but given our collective past, it is reasonable to be concerned.
“It’s just one game,” stated Suns head coach Monty Williams. “We’ll watch film, regroup, and get ready for a big game here on Tuesday.”
The Suns had several opportunities to win this strange, wild game. They ultimately took control of the situation in the third quarter, thanks to increased urgency and defensive grit. They returned everything in an uncomfortably short period of time.
While their defensive grit and rim protection were outstanding in the second half, their offence faltered in the final minutes. Too many shots were taken by athletes who did not have the surnames Booker or Durant. Then came the possession, which sucked the life out of the arena and sapped the enthusiasm from the home team.
Following a timeout with 1:08 left, the Clippers controlled the ball for the next 51 seconds. On three separate missed jumpers, they produced offensive rebounds. Russell Westbrook, the Suns’ arguable MVP for the most of the night, took a break from the bricklaying (3-of-19 shooting) to make a sequence of clutch plays. One of them was a smothering defensive stop on Booker, who oddly tried to drive to the hoop when the Suns were behind by three points.
It was another night of playoff misery at Footprint Centre, when the Suns’ tough and slow start brought back terrible memories of their Game 7 loss to Dallas.
“No excuses,” stated Booker. “It’s that time of year, and if you’re not up and ready for these (games), you’re playing the wrong sport.”
There were concerns that the Suns hadn’t been put through their paces down the stretch. That their sample size with Durant was insufficient to develop the synergy and trust required to win in the playoffs. Then Williams shocked everyone by using 11 players and starting Torrey Craig over Josh Okogie.
Craig, to his credit, was a standout performance, scoring 22 points in little under 27 minutes.
However, the Suns were also exposed by two of their key flaws. The Clippers’ bench was outscored 34-10, yet they hit 10-of-31 three-point attempts on the night, including a couple clutch treys late in the fourth quarter.
That was four more than the Suns had made from beyond the three-point line throughout the regular season.
With tensions rising in the Valley, it’s up to Williams to get his offence and rotation in sync. He must ensure that his two superstars run the show in the last five minutes, just as Kawhi Leonard (38 points) led the Clippers to victory.
The Suns’ head coach may not be on the hot seat heading into the playoffs. However, new owner Mat Ishbia has no allegiance to the current leadership. He could be wondering why the team he bought didn’t recognise or use Mikal Bridges the way he is in Brooklyn. He certainly has high expectations for this team’s performance right now.
So there’s a lot of pressure on Williams, and it’s just going to get worse. Especially after losing the first game at home.