PHOENIX – It’s just one win. Just one excruciating, thrilling win.
The Phoenix Suns desperately needed to open the 2022-23 regular season with a win. Coming back from a 22-point deficit on opening night to beat the Dallas Mavericks on a go-ahead shot in crunch time feels good for any team, but especially for the Suns after the offseason they endured.
The last time these two teams met, Dallas crushed Phoenix by 30 points in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. Against the same team on the same Footprint Center hardwood, Luka Doncic and the Mavs jumped out to another large lead Wednesday night, but this time the Suns did not fall on their face, eeking out a 107-105 victory that gave the organization hope for the rest of the season.
“We’ve been talking about that all of training camp, like how can we deal with the emotional ups and downs of the game,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I thought that helped us win the game tonight. We just stayed with it.”
The last few months for the Suns have been a roller coaster, from the way they lost to the Mavericks in the second round to the Deandre Ayton contract situation and owner Robert Sarver’s intention to sell the team. To cap it off, Jae Crowder requested a trade before training camp. All of the questions and turmoil were compounded by the Suns losing three-of-four preseason games (including against an Australian team).
However, instead of giving in to the questions and the noise, the Suns showed resilience on the way to a victory over a fellow Western Conference contender. Suns guard Devin Booker starred with his 28 points and nine assists, but Damion Lee, an offseason acquisition from Golden State, stole the show on a late prayer – a tough fadeaway – with 9.7 seconds left.
“It is unbelievable, but I knew it was coming,” Booker said. “[Lee] knows how to play the game and play the right way.”
Lee’s signing flew under the radar in July, less than a month after he won the 2021-22 NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, but he will be hard to forget now after his masterful fourth quarter. Lee played the entire final period and scored 11 points, including the go-ahead basket on the baseline to give the Suns their revenge-fueled victory.
“The ball was in my hands with under seven seconds to go (on the shot clock),” Suns guard Damion Lee said. “Just make a play. I got to my spot.”
This wasn’t just any win in the standings; it was a win for morale. The Suns have not had much to smile about in the past few months, but now they have a positive moment to draw from.
Since the Suns’ 26-39 record before COVID-19 paused the NBA schedule in March of 2020, they have been one of the league’s best teams and it all began with an eight-game win streak two years ago. Some may say it’s just one game, but sometimes all it takes is one to get back on track.
For instance, the Boston Celtics were 23-24 through 47 games last season and on pace to be a play-in team. But the Celtics’ entire season shifted after a blowout win against the Washington Wizards, led by Jayson Tatum’s 51 points. From that moment on, the Celtics took the league by storm and went all the way to the NBA Finals as the second seed in the East.
Wednesday’s nail-biting opener could be a similar catalyst for the Suns this season.
“It’s one of those games where you just have to stay with it and live with the results,” Williams said. “I was just proud with the fact that we didn’t give in.”