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In a franchise-defining moment, the Suns told us all that we need to know about them

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May 16, 2022

If you don’t learn from history you are destined to repeat it.

As Phoenix Suns fans, why haven’t we learned that lesson yet? We’ve had plenty of evidence over the years to support it.

No matter the roster, the uniforms, the arena or ownership, this team has always been cursed or worse, just not good enough. Instead of believing what we know to be true, we decided to buy in yet again this year. Our reward? A regular season that included 64 meaningless wins and one of the most heartless Game-7 performances in NBA history.

In the biggest moment of many of their careers, the Suns just quit. Quit in the game. Quit on each other. Quit on the series, and quit on their fans who have supported them every step of the way.

Where was Chris Paul’s leadership? When asked after Game 6 what he told his teammates about playing in a series deciding game, he simply said, “At the end of the day, it’s basketball. It’s not life threatening or anything like that.”

That mentality was evident when the Mavericks came out like something was on the line. Luka Dončić had 27 points; as many as Phoenix’s entire roster in the first half. The Suns came out like they had better things to do with Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton combining to go 1-of-15 from the floor with six total points. They’ll have plenty of time to do said things starting Monday after they clean out their lockers.

Devin Booker has dreamed of a chance to make an impact in a Game 7 since he was a kid. He went so far as to call them the greatest two words in sports. Sure, it’s great when you win but if not, it becomes a haunting, eternal reminder of opportunity lost. When you lose the way the Suns did, it becomes a recurring nightmare.

The game was supposed to be a coronation; a chance to prove Booker was a legendary star in the Valley. Instead, he got a front row seat to Luka Doncic solidifying his place among the young superstars in the game with 35 points, while only mustering 11 of his own on 3-of-14 shooting.

No one had more to lose in this series than Deandre Ayton. A man whom Suns fans have been hard on since his historic arrival in the 602. With his well documented contract difference with team management casting a shadow over the season since training camp, he had a multitude of opportunities to prove his value this season. Instead, he delivered an uneven year at best.

Despite all of that, Game 7 was a chance to reinforce his belief that he was a max-contract guy, and do it while going head-to-head with the man many argued on draft night should have been the No. 1 pick over him. While Luka Magic dominated on the floor, Ayton performed a magic trick of his own, turning nearly invisible despite being over 7 feet tall. Sunday’s comparative analysis put to bed the debate between the two players.

Ayton logged only 17 minutes, the fewest of any starter, tallying five points and four rebounds. The most passion he showed all night was when he reportedly had an altercation on the bench with Monty Williams that led to coaches separating the two.

After the game, Booker gave a cryptic response when asked about the situation and Ayton’s future, leaving more questions than answers.

“I care about him as a brother, so just making sure his mental is right, making sure he’s straight off the court.” Booker said. “Just making sure he’s in the right position. We have that type of relationship.”

When Williams was asked about why his starting center played so few minutes, he simply said, “It’s internal.”

What wasn’t internal was the lack of preparation and sense of the situation from the team. It was on full display for a national audience and that falls squarely on the head coach’s shoulders.

In both Game 6 and Game 7, Williams’ team seemed to treat the opportunity to close out the Mavericks with the urgency of a Summer League game in Las Vegas. They were going through the motions and getting outworked by Dallas in every facet of the game. It was as if they had forgotten how to play the game in which they dominated throughout the season and even in the three games they won in the series.

To his credit, Williams took the blame but provided few answers as to why it happened.

“I did not have us ready to play in a Game 7,” he said after the game. “They played their tails off, and that part for me is tough, because I know how bad our guys wanted it. We just had a bad night.”

How is it that in the Suns’ 94th and 95th games of the season, the NBA Coach of the Year failed to have his team prepared, not only to win, but simply to compete at a competent level?

You have to wonder, with how the last two games of the season played out, if general manager James Jones was questioning his desire to trust the ‘continuity and flow’ of his roster at the trade deadline rather than going all in and acquiring another significant piece. Could his reluctance to include a future first-round pick for a player such as Eric Gordon have cost the Suns when it mattered most?

What did all of these elements create? The worst loss in franchise history, which is impressive for a franchise whose history reads more like a Stephen King novel.

Valley fans waited more than a decade to see the city’s original pro franchise rise to prominence again. They waited 15 years between 60-plus win seasons. What did they get for their patience? A self-proclaimed “best team in the world” that couldn’t even be the best team on its home court in a Game 7 in the Western Conference semifinals. A team that, despite being the NBA’s title favorite entering the postseason, couldn’t even put up a fight. A team that not only embarrassed itself but its fan base in the process.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. Maybe that’s why fan is short for fanatical. Despite evidence to the contrary, we’ll always believe that things will be different in Phoenix this time around. Maybe one day it will be, but that can’t happen when your team doesn’t show up with the necessary heart, hustle and desire to win.

Follow Greg Esposito on Twitter

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