Updated: April 16, 2023 at 10:16 pm
Atonement is the theme of the postseason. It is a word that does not contain the letter “L”.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the Suns’ season record.
Our journey to redemption started with a rough start on Sunday night – a 115-110 loss to the Clippers that gave the opponent early momentum and home-court advantage.
It’s the first time Devin Booker’s Suns have lost a Game 1. It was also Kevin Durant’s first loss as a member of the Suns’ lineup. It is not a cause for panic, but a mild concern is warranted given our shared history.
“It’s one game,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. When we get there on Tuesday, we’ll watch film, regroup and get ready to play a big game here.
The Suns had many chances to win this odd and messy game. They finally fought back in the third period with a rush and defensive tenacity. They all answered with alarming speed.
Although their defensive strength and rim protection improved in the second half, their offense slowed down. Too many shots were taken by players not named Booker or Durant. And then came the possession that drained the life out of the building and the energy out of the home team.
With 1:08 left, the Clippers held possession for the next 51 seconds. They produced offensive rebounds on three separate missed shots. Russell Westbrook — the Suns’ MVP most of the night — took a break from the Brickyard (shot from 19-3-19) to make a series of huge plays. One of them included a defensive stop on Booker, who was followed by a three-pointer by Sun to eagerly drive to the basket.
It featured another disappointing night in the playoffs at the Footprint Center, where the Suns’ brutal and scheming start conjured up painful memories of that Game 7 loss against Dallas.
“There are no excuses,” Booker said. “That’s the time of year, and if you’re not up and ready for these (games), you’re playing the wrong sport.”
There were fears that the sun had not been properly tested. Their sample size with Durant was not enough to build the bond and trust necessary to succeed in the game. Then Williams surprised everyone by using 11 players and starting Torrey Craig over Josh Okogie.
To his credit, Craig was one of the first to score 22 points in under 27 minutes.
But the Suns are also exposed to their two major weaknesses. Their bench was outscored 34-10, and the Clippers made 10 of 31 three-point shots on the night, including a few devastating treys late in the fourth quarter.
That was four more than the Suns made from beyond the three-point line, a common refrain for much of the regular season.
With anxiety already mounting in the Valley, it will be up to Williams to sync up the offense and rotations. Just as Kawhi Leonard (38 points) carried the Clippers to the finish line, the two superstars must make sure they are running the show in the final five minutes.
The Suns head coach may not be on any kind of hot seat heading into the postseason. But new owner Matt Ishbia has no loyalty to the current regime. He may wonder why Michael Bridges didn’t realize or take advantage of the way the team he bought was operating in Brooklyn. Obviously, this team has high hopes for production right now.
So, there’s an element that’s weighing on Williams, which is about to get even louder. Especially after losing 1 game at home.
Reach Bickley at email@example.com. Listen to Bickley and Marotta weekdays from 6 am – 10 pm on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station.