DALLAS — Anger swirls at Planet Orange. Those are tough, sobering questions.
How can such a good team look so vulnerable?
How can Chris Paul turn 37 and suddenly play the two worst playoff games of his Phoenix career?
And chances are you’ll need a roadmap and a flashlight to find the depth and defense that made the Suns the NBA’s best regular-season team.
“Everyone has to take responsibility and that starts with me,” said Suns head coach Monty Williams. “I made some decisions tonight that put us in a difficult position.”
Once again, the Suns were completely upset in Game 4. They committed 17 turnovers in the second game in a row. They allowed the Mavericks to make 20 of 44 three-point shots. They’ve become so obsessed with Luka Doncic that they’ve become oddly vulnerable to the Corner Trey.
Before that awful weekend in Dallas, the Suns had a 2-0 lead in the series, had beaten the Mavericks 11 times in a row, and were easily the best road team in the NBA. Now they’re fighting for their playoff life, just like they did in a first-round series against the Pelicans.
It shouldn’t be that difficult. Not for a team that has won 64 games in the regular season. They have a better team but are struggling more than they did in their playoff run in 2021.
“For whatever reason, we haven’t played a full game here,” Williams said. “I thought our defense in the first half was about as bad as it’s been all year in terms of spotting shooters.”
Start with Paul’s disastrous weekend. After two games of the series, he was the postseason MVP. On Sunday he played just 23 minutes before fouling. His sixth and final foul was a very picky call from a close official. But his fourth was an egregious tactical error by Williams that put Paul back in the game with 45.7 seconds remaining in the first half. His fifth foul was a contact attempt from behind which saw Paul unnecessarily put himself in a dangerous position.
Namely in the hands of the referee.
Officials made it clear from the start that very little contact or excessive whining would be tolerated. A basketball game ensued that was difficult to watch. The kind of game that extremists in both fan bases believe the league is rigged.
Conclusion: In the playoffs you have to read every sentence of officials and adapt to it. The Suns battled hard with their emotions over the weekend.
“I can’t put myself in those positions to give them the opportunity to do that,” Paul said.
While a visibly excited Paul took the main road before quickly throwing himself out of the post-game press conference, Devin Booker ignored his coach’s pleas for personal responsibility and fired a series of cautious shots at the referee. He said he had never watched a game like Game 4 on Sunday. He advised everyone to watch the last two games again.
No thanks Devin.
Playing against Doncic and his incessant whining can be annoying, just like it was against Tim Duncan and the Spurs. But the Suns desperately need to wrest office from their collective psyche and rediscover the brand of dominant basketball that makes office largely irrelevant.
“I don’t think we were that well organized tonight,” Williams said. “A bit rushed. But right now it’s about personal property.”
There were other problems. Williams adapted too much to Doncic’s punishing performance at the post in Game 3, saying his team was too wide defensively and too concerned with three-pointers. The Mavericks countered with a brilliant performance from the periphery that took advantage of the odd tactic.
Deandre Ayton played softly. The bench no longer feels like a huge asset. It often feels like the worst bench left in the postseason. Allowing offensive rebounds has resurfaced as a serious liability.
“We understand it’s a series,” Booker said. “It’s the playoffs for a reason. The best teams in the NBA are here and nobody wants to lose.”
Still, that wasn’t the expected reaction after the Suns lost Game 3 on Friday, a team with a self-proclaimed reputation as a bad loser. They raved about their training focus and intensity on Saturday. They vowed to look like a different team in Game 4 and they failed. And after falling to 2-3 on the road this postseason, they’re once again bringing unwanted drama home to Phoenix.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station weekdays from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m.