Phoenix — The first part of Wednesday’s season opener brought back the lingering pain of the playoff defeat of last year’s spring of Phoenix’s Phoenix Suns. The Suns were dominated by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks at home.
The rally that came from a deficit of 22 points for a win of 107-105 on the Footprint Center that much sweeter for the Suns.
“If you get your asses kicked, you want to get your get-back,” Devin Booker told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano in the postgame on-court interview, acknowledging his humiliation from a loss that was 33 points to the Warriors in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. “That’s the nature of things.
“We still have 81 games to go. I said that before the game. It’s a good start. I think it’s a good start to show our team if we’re down early that we can come back in games.”
The Suns were awarded the top overall seed in last season, largely due to their ability to close which was evident in their record of the best in the NBA at 33-9 during the clutch, measured as the game being less than five points at the end of five minutes. In this way, this was a typical game for Phoenix.
However, this comeback was of greater significance for the Suns in their turbulent offseason that began with the dreadful defeat against the Mavs included the owner Robert Sarver putting the team up for sale following inquiries into the culture of the team’s work and tense negotiations over contracts between center Deandre Ayton, and the end of it all with the Suns accepting a maximum offer contract he had made along with Indiana Pacers and former starting forward Jae Crowder mutually agreeing with management to not report during the last year of his deal in addition to other matters. Of course the NBA has scheduled the Mavs to visit Phoenix for their opener. which was a telecast of the famous playoff game.
“I think any time you win in the NBA, it’s cool,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “But to beat the team that knocked you out, it doesn’t erase that feeling, that hurt, but it does help you grow.”
The Mavs held a 15-point lead in the final 8:31 following an euphoric scoring run that was led Dallas sixth-man Christian Wood, who was traded in a summer deal to the Houston Rockets. Wood scored 16 points for the Mavs during a four-minute 35-second stretch that spanned the fourth and third quarters, an offensive streak that started after Phoenix was within one point.
“We relaxed a little bit,” Doncic said who scored 35 points as well as nine rebounds and six assists. He missed a 34-foot shot at the final buzzer. “We think, not that the game was done, but we just relaxed. ‘It’s a lot of points, we’re going to get there, we’re going to win.’ Like I said, we just can’t relax. It’s happened a lot of times. We can’t be blowing leads. This is a thing we have to work on, and we will for sure.”
Booker came back into the game after the Suns at 15 down and recorded 7 of the 28 points as well as 6 of the 9 assists during the final quarter. But it was the unlikely hero who was on fire for the Suns in the final stretch. Damion Lee scored 11 points during the fourth quarterand he was on the court for the whole frame due to Cameron Johnson exited because of cramping. He made the decisive shot on an 11-foot shot with 9.7 seconds left.
That game-winning score by Lee who was has signed on for the veterans minimum following his stint as an reserve for the league champions, the Golden State Warriors, came right after he surrendered an uncontested drive and a tie by Doncic. He was given a short encouragement from Williams at the end of the timeout.
“Coach just looks at me and he said: ‘Hey, go make a play. Go make a play,” said Lee who is 2-of-9 when it comes to tie or go-ahead field goals within the final seconds of his career, as per ESPN Stats & Information research. “That’s what you want — a coach that’s always going to instill that confidence in you, no matter what happens.”
Another thing that was awe-inspiring about the Suns the fourth quarter rally was Chris Paul, who has been lauded for being one of NBA’s best regular-season defenders was watching the final 6:41 of the game from the bench.
The Suns lost by 12 points when Paul left the team after a few minutes, and Williams had a plan to take a break from the point guard of 37 for a short period of time before bringing Paul back into the game to close the game. But, Williams decided not to interfere with the flow the Suns established by using Cameron Payne at point guard in the final stretch.
“I’m always open-minded in those situations,” Williams declared. “As much as you want to have Chris out there, I know Chris wants to win. When I took him out, my plan was to get him back in there at three [minutes]. Then the game was just going in a good way and Cam was playing well, so I didn’t want to take him out. I didn’t think it was that big of a decision, but I guess it is because it’s Chris.”