A number of theories and reports have hinted at what might have gone wrong for the Phoenix Suns as they collapsed in the second round of the postseason against the Dallas Mavericks. Chris Paul may or may not have been injured. DeAndre Ayton may or may not have been getting along with head coach Monty Williams. But on Wednesday, The Athletic reported a new wrinkle in Phoenix's meltdown: The team was apparently dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19.
A total of six individuals, including one player, tested positive for COVID-19 in the days leading up to Phoenix's Game 7 defeat or in the day after. The only named individual among them was assistant coach Bryan Gates, who missed Game 7. The Suns did not hold in-person exit interviews after losing to Dallas, instead relying on Zoom.
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The Suns declined to comment, but privately insist that there was no breach of the NBA's health and safety protocols. "I think it's very clear that nobody wanted to report stuff," said one source with knowledge of the Suns' positive tests who was not authorized to speak publicly about them. "And this is where it gets dicey." A league spokesman added that "the NBA has seen no evidence to suggest any rules violations by Suns players or staff."
The Suns lost Chris Paul to the health and safety protocols prior to Game 1 of the 2021 Western Conference finals last season, and he ultimately missed two games. However, the league's testing system has changed drastically this season. Teams are expected to test individuals now only if they are symptomatic. This is how players like Al Horford, Paul George and Zach LaVine have missed postseason games this season.
Without knowing the full extent of the outbreak, it's impossible to know just how much it impacted the Suns as they lost the last two games of their second-round series to Dallas. Ultimately, it is likely just one of many factors that led to Phoenix's defeat, but at the very least, it offers some semblance of an explanation for one of the most unexpected Game 7 blowouts in NBA history.