Another game. Another loss.
That’s seven straight defeats for the Phoenix Suns under interim head coach Earl Watson, who at 0-7 is off to the worst coaching start in the history of the franchise.
However, wins and losses — 11 straight overall for those counting — are likely secondary results to better effort and improvement, especially among the young talent, since Watson replaced Jeff Hornacek on Feb. 1.
Progress has been slow, but noticeable.
For example, Alex Len.
Pressed into the starting lineup due to the injury to Tyson Chandler (right shoulder bruise), the third-year center recorded his seventh double-double of the season — and 17th of his career — with a career-high 23 points and 13 rebounds in a 118-111 defeat to the San Antonio Spurs before a Sunday afternoon crowd of 16,224 at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Len, who had 11 points and nine rebounds at the half, shot 9-of-15 and made all five of his free throw attempts.
Perhaps his best sequence came late in the second quarter, when he scored five unanswered points, first tipping in a miss and then dunking over his childhood idol Tim Duncan drawing a foul.
Len hit the free throw to convert the three-point play.
Len was one of six Suns players in double figures, three of whom came off the bench with Archie Goodwin (14), Mirza Teletovic (14) and Jon Leuer (13).
The Spurs never trailed.
Twice the Suns tied the game, including midway through the fourth quarter, but the Spurs answered with seven straight points to take a 107-100 lead with 4:14 to play.
The Suns (14-42) missed 10 of their last 15 field goal attempts, but shot 46.2 percent for the game.
The Spurs, the NBA’s No.1 shooting team, made 52.4 percent of their shots.
Tony Parker scored 22, Patty Mills 21, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 19 and 10 rebounds.
Leading scorer Kawhi Leonard missed the game, his third straight, with tightness in his left calf.
In sweeping the four-game season-series from the Suns, the Spurs (47-9) set a new franchise record in wins through the first 56 games of a season.
Though they never led, the Suns did tie the game once in the first half, 11-11, at the 5:55 mark of the first quarter on Tucker’s first made 3-pointer of the game. The 25-foot long-range jumper capped a 7-0 Suns run. Tucker finished the period with a team-best seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, adding a rebound and a steal. Len, by the way, opened with five rebounds, four on the defensive end.
With recently signed Phil Pressey at point guard, the Suns scored seven unanswered points early in the second quarter to pull to within five, 33-28, at the 10:18 mark. Pressey had three points in the run. The Suns got as close as five twice more in the period, including after Goodwin’s driving lay-up at the 8:09 mark, 38-33. Goodwin and Len each scored seven and had four rebounds in the period.
After a quiet first half, Ronnie Price and Devin Booker responded in the third quarter, combining for 11 of their team’s first 19 points as the Suns scored on nine of their first 10 offensive trips. Price had seven with Booker adding four. The starting backcourt — Price was a late replacement for Goodwin — totaled three points (0-of-4 shooting) with two turnovers and four fouls in the first two periods.
A couple of scoring streaks stayed alive for the Suns. Teletovic recorded his sixth straight game scoring 14 or more, which is the longest such streak by a Suns reserve since Leandro Barbosa did so in six straight from March 6-15, 2009. Meanwhile, Goodwin extended his career-long stretch of scoring 10 or more to seven games. He also tied his career-high in rebounds at seven, three offensive.
Not a bad first impression by Pressey, who had six points, five assists and three blocks in 28 minutes, which marked a new season-high. His three blocked shots, by the way, were a new career-high and at 5-foot-11, he became the first NBA player shorter than 6-feet to record at least three blocks in a game since Chicago’s Nate Robinson had three on Jan. 28, 2013 against Charlotte.
It took the Suns nearly three minutes before their first points appeared on the scoreboard. In the meantime, they turned it over three times plus were guilty of goaltending (Ronnie Price); which all contributed to the Spurs 8-0 start. Later, the Spurs went on a 13-5 run to go up 10 (28-18) at the 1:36 mark. Aldridge was both the Spurs’ high scorer (nine) and rebounder (three) in the quarter.
Four times the Suns trailed by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, including after a 7-0 Spurs run in which Parker had four points, the last two on free throws to put San Antonio ahead, 52-40, at the 3:41 mark. As good as Parker was, it was Mills who led the way with six points and two rebounds in the period and had a team-best 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting (four 3s) at the half.
Twice the Suns had chances to take their first lead of the game late in the third quarter, but both Leuer and Sonny Weems missed lay-ups; the latter had his shot blocked by Rasual Butler, who had three points plus a rebound and two steals. Parker, though, was the high point man in the period scoring seven on 3-of-5 shooting, including a 3-pointer, his one and only of the game.
The proverbial nail in the coffin came by way of a 24-foot 3-pointer by Mills to put the Spurs up seven, 107-100, at the 4:14 mark. For Mills, it was his sixth 3-pointer (on nine attempts), tying a career-high, which happened twice before, most recently April 10, 2014, at Dallas. Mills finished one point shy of his season-high as this was his third game with 20 or more points this season.
STAT OF THE GAME
7/11: The Suns tied their franchise-worst home losing streak at seven games (March 20-April 7, 2013) and set their fourth-longest overall losing streak in franchise history at 11 straight games; it’s the first time the Suns have lost that many games in a row since they lost a franchise-worst 14 consecutive games from April 2-Nov. 26, 1996.
HE SAID IT, part 1
“Before the game, I told Alex Len we need 20-plus points then we also need double-digit rebounds. We needed a double-double out of him to have a chance,” Watson said. “He looked at me and said, ‘OK’ so he came and he delivered against a team that is known for defensively controlling the interior point. Tim Duncan, a hall of famer, LaMarcus (Aldridge) who we all know he’s an all-star, too, so a big step forward with Alex Len.”
HE SAID IT, part 2
“I thought they did a great job. They’re aggressiveness was fantastic,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said, referring to the Suns. “Earl was calm and cool the whole night. They played their fannies off for him and I’m not just saying that because he’s the interim coach and I’m trying to make him look good, their aggressiveness and attention to detail was fantastic. That kept them in the game and almost gave them a chance to win the game. It was very impressive.”
Watson was T’d up at 1:41 of the first quarter, his second technical foul of the season
Suns started their 16th different lineup with Price, Booker, Tucker, Humphries and Len
Chandler missed his 10th game, eight due to a right hamstring strain from Nov. 29-Dec. 11
Pressey became the Suns sixth 10-day contract addition and 21st different player overall
For the first time this month, the Suns will hit the road as they complete the 10th of 14 back-to-back sets this season.
The Suns visit Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and the L.A. Clippers on Monday, Feb. 22. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes earlier on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
This is the third of four meetings.
The Suns won the last matchup, ending a streak of eight straight wins by the Clippers which was their longest streak in series history, 118-104, in Phoenix on Nov. 12.
Brandon Knight tied his career-high with 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting, also shooting 6-of-10 from beyond the arc with his six 3-point makes tying a career-high, while Eric Bledsoe finished one assist shy of a triple-double, totaling 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
Overall, the Suns have won 17 of the last 29 games in the series.
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