The Phoenix Suns’ road to redemption begins with a tainted loss to the Clippers

Phoenix Suns

Updated: April 16, 2023 at 10:16 pm

Atonement is the theme of the postseason. It is a word without the letter “L”.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Suns’ playoff record.

Our recovery journey began with a serious blemish on Sunday night — a 115-110 loss to the Clippers that gave the opponent early momentum and home-court advantage.

It was the first time Devin Booker’s Suns had lost the first game of a playoff series. It was Kevin Durant’s first loss as a member of the Suns lineup. This is no cause for panic, but given our collective history, mild concern is appropriate.

“It’s a game,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “We’ll watch film, regroup and get ready for a big game here on Tuesday when we show up.”

The Suns had many chances to win this odd, messy game. With intense urgency and defensive determination, they finally wrestled control of things in the third period. They gave it all back fast.

Although their defensive tenacity and rim protection improved in the second half, their offense continued to struggle. Many shots were taken by players not named Booker or Durant. Then possession drained the life out of the building and the energy out of the home team.

Following a layup with 1:08 left in the period, the Clippers held possession for the next 51 seconds. They also produced offensive rebounds on three different missed shots. Russell Westbrook — arguably the Suns’ MVP all night — took a break from bricklaying (3-of-19 shooting) to make a series of big plays. One of them was a stifling defensive stop on Booker, who frantically tried to drive to the basket with the Suns trailing by three points.

It marked another night of playoff disappointment at Footprint Center, where the Suns’ brutal and plodding start evoked painful memories of that Game 7 loss against Dallas.

“No excuses,” Booker said. “It’s that time of year and if you’re not ready for these (games), you’re playing the wrong game.”

There were fears that the Suns were not properly tested. Their sample size with Durant wasn’t enough to create the cohesion and confidence needed to succeed in the playoffs. Williams then surprised everyone by using his 11 players and starting Torey Craig against Josh Okogie.

Craig was one of the top performers with 22 points in 27 minutes.

But the Suns were exposed by their two primary weaknesses. Their bench was outscored 34-10, and the Clippers made 10-31 three-point shots on the evening, including some devastating treys late in the fourth quarter.

That was four more than the Suns made from beyond the three-point line, a familiar refrain for much of the regular season.

With tension already running high in the Valley, it’s incumbent on Williams to get his offense and his rotation in sync. Just as Kawhi Leonard (38 points) carried the Clippers to the finish line, he needs to make sure his two superstars put on a show in the final five minutes.

The Suns’ head coach shouldn’t be having any kind of hot season. But new owner Matt Ishbia has no loyalty to the current regime. He may be wondering why the team he acquired didn’t realize or use Mikal Bridges the way he was hired in Brooklyn. He has high hopes for this team that is now producing.

So, there’s an element of pressure on Williams that’s going to get louder. Especially after losing the 1st game at home.

Reach Bickley at [email protected]. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6am to 10am on 98.7 FM Arizona Sports Station.

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