Three steps forward, one giant step back. The Phoenix Suns had been garnering momentum after a three-game winning streak, but a 95-99 loss to a Dallas Mavericks team that was without Luka Doncic almost the entire game might have brought past issues back up to the surface.

Trailing by two late, Deandre Ayton was unable to grab a hold of a pivotal rebound off a missed Dallas free throw, getting out-battled by Dwight Powell. The unfortunate play essentially put the game on ice. That was not the end of it, though, as Suns head coach Monty Williams referenced Ayton's unsuccessful effort in the postgame press conference.

“In that situation, it was not as important to us as it was to them to get the ball. Period,” Williams said per Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Ayton missed the Suns' last three games due to illness, but did not quite have the triumphant return he would have hoped Thursday night. Despite being one point away from a double-20, Ayton went 6-of-20 from the field in addition to being the game's scapegoat at the end.

Williams essentially outlining effort and determination as the main reason Ayton did not come up with the ball on that crucial play is a bit of a recurring theme surrounding the Suns big man. He had his intensity questioned in the 2021 NBA Finals as the Milwaukee Bucks were able to overpower him throughout the series. The former overall No. 1 pick signed a four-year, $133 million extension last year, but was thought to be a potential trade candidate much of the offseason. Another instance of his grit being questioned, though, could always re-open that door.

With 17.5 points per game and 9.9 rebounds per game, Ayton is practically a walking double-double. However, he has still not shaken the narrative that he lacks the fire needed to make clutch winning plays, fair or not.

The Suns would benefit immensely if he could change that narrative before the playoffs commence.