This historic season didn’t end according to plan for the top-seeded Suns.
Dallas didn’t just beat Phoenix in Sunday’s Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Mavericks destroyed the “best team in the league” on its home floor, 123-90, before a stunned sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center.
The Suns went from beating the Mavericks 11 straight times over the course of three seasons to losing four of their last five games against them at the wrong time.
Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s Game 7 collapse that saw the Suns trail by as many as 46 points.
Phoenix’s Big 3 didn’t show up
Takeaway 1. Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton came up small in the biggest game of the season and arguably their lives.
Booker said after he wasn’t going to shoot over multiple people as the Mavericks were blitzing him, but he came out passive and didn’t set the offensive tone.
ESPN’s Marc Spears reported Paul was playing through a quad injury. He clearly wasn’t himself, but he didn’t have the look of someone ready to battle. This is now the fifth time in the playoffs he’s been on a team that’s blown a 2-0 series lead.
Not all his fault, but just not a good look.
As for Ayton, he not only played 17 minutes, but didn’t return after coming out with 8:26 left in the third quarter. Those in the viewing area saw him and Monty Williams exchange words and coaches got between them.
That would explain Williams’ “it’s internal” response to a question about Ayton’s 17 minutes. Ayton took just five shots in scoring a playoff career-low five points.
This comes after Ayton said Thursday’s Game 6 effort was “terrible” and “unacceptable.”
How those three played was unacceptable in Game 7.
Booker missed his first nine shots in going 3-of-14 and turned the ball four times.
Ayton missed two shots at point blank range in the first half that left the crowd at a loss and Paul just looked out of sorts to the point he was in the way instead of leading the way.
Now, the entire team played bad, but in a Game 7, that’s when your best players show up and show out. Phoenix’s Big 3 didn’t do that Sunday night.
Game 7 recap: Suns’ season ends with blowout Game 7 loss to Mavs
Luka Doncic continued to show why he’s special
Takeaway 2. The two-time first team All-NBA selection was the best player in the series, by far.
With the Mavericks facing elimination in Game 6, Doncic played his best game of the series in posting a near triple-double of 33 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to go along with four steals and only one turnover.
He topped that in Game 7 with 35 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals and just two turnovers.
Doncic had back-to-back clutch performances in leading the Mavs to victory.
Somers: Embarrassing is a kind word to Suns loss to Mavs in Game 7
Now he got some help in Game 7.
Spencer Dinwiddie built off his 15-point Game 6 when hitting five 3s to scoring a playoff career high 30 in hitting another five 3s.
Jalen Brunson scored 24 points as he continued to have his way with whoever was guarding him with his stop-and-start shifty play.
However, Doncic was the difference.
He’s going to present Golden State with the same problems in the conference finals. If his teammates ride with him, that series will likely reach a Game 7, too.
The Suns had no answers for Dallas’ 3-ball
Takeaway 3. The Mavericks knocked down 19-of-39 from 3, but this was just a continuation of what they did to the Suns all series.
Game 1: 16-of-39.
Game 2: 17-of-41.
Game 3: 13-of-39.
Game 4: 20-of-44.
Game 5: 8-of-32
Game 6: 16-of-39
Moore: Suns’ Game 7 loss stains legacies of all involved
Had the Suns punished the Mavericks in the paint and forced them to play Dwight Powell more or even the mammoth 7-footer Boban Marjanovic, Dallas doesn’t stick to the small ball and stay five out.
The Mavs were fine with Ayton because he’s not the type who looks to score 30-plus every night even when he has an advantage.
So they went small and shot the Suns out of the building.
As Paul said, Phoenix “couldn’t keep up with the ball” in defending the Mavs, who made tough shots, but also got some clean looks.
Monty Williams took blame for the loss
Takeaway 3. The NBA coach of the Year shouldn’t have to shoulder all of what happened, but Mavs coach Jason Kidd “got us,” as Williams put it after Game 7.
The Suns went from shooting at least 50% from the field in a franchise-record eight straight postseason games to ending their season going 39.7% from the field in Game 6 and 37.9% in Game 7.
We’re talking about an offense that ranked in the top five to 10 all season long.
The Suns pride themselves on assists, but only had 18 in Game 6 and 22 in Game 7. Granted the 22 turnovers ruined Game 6, but Phoenix only had 12 in Game 7.
The offense not only lacked rhythm, but was so stagnant. Maybe it goes back to how the regular season finished.
Williams chose to rest starters and the Suns lost four of their last six. Can’t argue the move, but the maybe Phoenix lost its offensive flow and never fully got it back.
Then again, the Suns pride themselves on defending, getting stops and running. They failed to do that all Sunday night.
The Suns were a top three defensive team all season and Dallas closed them out by shooting a ridiculous 56.8% from the field.
So Williams should take the blame for that.
Read more: Suns’ historic season abruptly ends as Mavericks dominate Game 7
Kidd made the better adjustments with one being playing Frank Ntilikina instead of Josh Green and having him come off the bench to guard Paul.
Kidd also held Doncic accountable for his lack of defense early in the series when he was being asked should the Mavs give his superstar help.
Doncic responded the right way and “participated” on defense as Kidd put it ..
Williams needed to publicly hold Bridges accountable for his defense on Doncic.
He instead took him off Doncic and had the 37-year-old Paul open Game 7 guarding the 23-year-old phenom who is bigger, stronger, taller and looking for payback on Paul, who went at him early in this series.
Related: NBA Twitter slams Suns’ Game 7 performance vs. Mavericks
Historic season dissolved into ruins
Takeaway 5. Finally, one loss can’t erase winning a franchise-record 64 games, but it can surely make it harder to bounce back.
Say the Suns lose on a buzzer beater.
That hurts, too, but to just get crushed from start to finish makes a team question how they won 64 games only to get embarrassed in a Game 7.
Phoenix trailed at the half by 30, the largest halftime deficit of any Game 7. Ever.
Doncic had scored the same amount of points as the Suns in the first half (27).
No one is talking about the officiating.
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This Game 7 loss is all on the Suns. Period.
They were boastful all year. Talking trash and backing it up with big wins.
Then they ran into a team that not only didn’t back down, but had the firepower to matchup with them and rose up on the defensive end.
Dallas looks like Phoenix did last year.
The Mavs were the more physical team and took it a team that prided itself of accepting the challenging and fighting back.
They got the last laugh.
Read more: Suns’ humiliating Game 7 loss joins Arizona hall of infamy
The Suns are still one of the league’s best teams, but didn’t play like it in the ultimate Game 7.
The Mavericks humbled them.
How will the Suns respond to that next season?
They won’t have championship expectations and will face teams who not only want to beat them, but beat them for how they had their way with the league all season.
Dallas exposed them. How they return from that will show what this team will be for not only next season, but for the next three to four seasons.
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at email@example.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
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