PHOENIX – The first half of Wednesday night’s season opener conjured up the still-fresh aching feelings from the Phoenix Suns’ embarrassing playoff loss last spring. Once again, the Suns were dominated at home by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
That made the rally from a 22-point deficit to a 107-105 victory at Footprint Center all the sweeter for the Suns.
“When you get your ass kicked, you want your equivalent,” Devin Booker told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano during the pre-game post-game interview, recognizing the humiliation of a 33-point blowout loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals. “So life is.
“We have 81 games left. I said that before the game. It’s a good start. I think it’s a good start to show our team that we can come back in games if we’re down early .”
The Suns earned their top spot overall last season in large part due to their finishing ability, as they were the NBA’s best in clutch games at 33-9, as evidenced by finishing within five points in the last five minutes was defined. In that sense, this was sort of a signature performance for Phoenix.
But that comeback held a deeper meaning for the Suns, whose chaotic offseason that began with that horrible loss to the Mavs included owner Robert Sarver putting the team up for sale after scandals and strained contract negotiations with center Deandre Ayton that eventually ended With the Suns conforming to a maximum offer sheet, he signed with the Indiana Pacers and former starting forward Jae Crowder, who agreed with management, among other things, not to report for the final season of his contract. And of course, the NBA planned for the Mavs to return to Phoenix for the opener, a televised rematch of that memorable playoff series.
“I think every time you win in the NBA, it’s cool,” said Suns coach Monty Williams. “But beating the team that KO’ed you doesn’t erase that feeling, it hurts but it helps you grow.”
The Mavs led by 15 points with 8:31 remaining after a hit by Christian Wood, the sixth Dallas man acquired in a summer trade with the Houston Rockets. Wood scored 16 consecutive points for the Mavs in a 4 minute 35 second span that spanned the third and fourth quarters, a run that began after Phoenix drew to a point.
“We relaxed a bit,” said Doncic, who finished with 35 points, nine rebounds and six assists but missed a 34-foot hit on the buzzer. “We don’t think the game was over, but we just relaxed. ‘It’s a lot of points, we’ll do it, we’ll win.’ Like I said, we just can’t relax. It’s happened many times before. We can’t give away leads. We have to work on that and we certainly will.
Booker came back 15 points down and had seven of his 28 points and six of his nine assists in the fourth quarter. However, it was an unlikely hero who starred for the Suns. Damion Lee scored all 11 of his points in the fourth quarter – when he played part of the entire frame because Cameron Johnson was out due to cramps – and hit the game-winning shot on a 10-foot fadeaway with 9.7 seconds left.
This game-winner Lee, who signed for the veteran minimum after serving as a reserve for the champions Golden State Warriors, immediately gained possession after giving up a tie and a drive from Doncic. During the ensuing time-out, he received a brief encouraging speech from Williams.
“Coach just looks at me and said, ‘Hey, make a game. Go on, have a game,” said Lee, who is now 2 of 9 in the last minute for game completion or making field goals during his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information Research. “That’s what you want – a coach who always instills that confidence in you, no matter what.”
Another surprising element of the Suns’ fourth-quarter rally: Chris Paul, who has earned a reputation as one of the NBA’s top regular-season closers, watched the final 6:41 from the bench.
The Suns were down by 12 when Paul checked out, and Williams’ plan was to rest the 37-year-old point guard for a few minutes before reinserting Paul to end the game. However, Williams chose not to disrupt the rhythm the Suns had established with Cameron Payne as point guard down the stretch.
“I’m always open-minded in situations like this,” Williams said. “As much as you want Chris out there, I know Chris wants to win. When I got him out, my plan was to get him back in at three [minutes]. Then the game just went well and Cam played well, so I didn’t want to turn him off. I didn’t think it was such a big decision but I think it’s because it’s Chris.”
https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/34836967/suns-rally-mavs-provides-some-get-back-playoff-exit Suns’ rally over Mavs provides some ‘get-back’ for playoff exit