I am rarely stunned by a professional sporting event.
The margins between world-class athletes are small, and in the playoffs—where only the best remain—the margins are even smaller. It should be impossible to be surprised by the results of an individual game. And yet every so often, one comes along and turns me into that weird cartoon dog gif. My eyes bulge. My jaw drops to the ground. My tongue unfurls across the floor and I belt out a ferocious “AOOGAH!”
I felt this way during the 2008 Super Bowl as David Tyree was pinning a football to his helmet and it became apparent that the undefeated Patriots would be undefeated no more. I let out at least four aoogahs in 2019 as the Blue Jackets were sweeping a record-breaking Lightning team out of the first round of the playoffs. I was slack-jawed the entire second half of last year’s Jazz-Clippers Game 6 as Utah forgot how to defend and Terrance Mann carved his initials on their gravestone. Sunday night, during the first 24 minutes of Mavs-Suns Game 7, it happened again.
The Phoenix Suns were the best team in basketball during the 2022 regular season. They won 64 games and led the league in point differential. Nobody finished within eight games of them in either conference. They seemed destined to learn from last year’s blown 2-0 Finals lead, a walk-through-fire moment that is a rite of passage for every eventual champion—before you can know true joy, you must know heartbreak. Devin Booker became a top-five MVP candidate, Deandre Ayton drew praise as the perfect evolutionary big, and Chris Paul looked poised to stamp his legendary career with the one thing that has eluded him: a team championship.
All that unraveled in a little over an hour of real time. It was surprising that the Mavs won but it was stunning HOW they won. Luka Doncic scored as many points (27) as the entire Suns team in the first half. Spencer Dinwiddie briefly turned into Steph Curry. Booker, Ayton, and Paul simultaneously turned into pumpkins. Doncic cackled in the faces of everyone in attendance after each step-back three, including the leathery retirees sitting mute and befuddled on the front row. The Mavericks led by 30 points at halftime and it somehow felt worse. All the aoogahs in the world couldn’t do justice to what we all witnessed: a 6.5 point underdog going on the road for Game 7 against the best team in basketball and handing them their ass on a silver platter. For the magnitude of the game and the supposed quality of the team, I cannot remember an NBA game more stunning.