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Suns’ second-half surge comes up short against 76ers at home

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, right, shoots as he gets past Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss, left, during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, in Phoenix. The 76ers defeated the Suns 123-110. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Foul trouble is a thing that can swing games, and the best example of that for the 2017-18 season might be the Phoenix Suns’ 123-110 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday.

Devin Booker had 32 points, six rebounds and six assists while T.J. Warren added 28, but the story of how Phoenix recovered from a disappointing first half was about what happened to Philadelphia.

The Sixers are a team that heavily relies on three players: Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington.

That’s evident in the box score, where Embiid had 22 points, Simmons posted 21 points on 11 shots with 10 rebounds and six assists, and Covington held Booker to 8-of-22 shooting as his primary defender for a good chunk of the night.

Philly shot 56 percent from the field and led by 14 at halftime as the Suns looked hopeless on both ends.

“We were no match for them, especially in the first half,” Suns head coach Jay Triano said.

There was an opening, though, because Covington and Embiid had three fouls and Simmons had two.

Less than two minutes into the second half, Covington got his fourth foul. Embiid got his less than two minutes later and Simmons got two more in a little over four minutes into the quarter.

Suddenly, Sixers head coach Brett Brown had his three best players each with four fouls, and he wasn’t even halfway into the third quarter.

Predictably, the Suns went on a 38-24 run, leading 87-84 at one point late in the third quarter.

After limiting Booker to 1-of-6 shooting for four points in the first half, Covington was out, and Philadelphia had to at times stick point guards Jerryd Bayless or T.J. McConnell on him.

As you might assume, that went well for the Suns. Booker recovered from a rocky start, scoring 16 points in the third quarter and playing more aggressively knowing the Sixers were keying in on him in the first half.

Brown, seeing the collapse unfold, had no choice but to play Embiid with four fouls for a stretch of the third quarter.

The fourth quarter would see neither team separate themselves throughout. Philadelphia controlled the front-half, but a couple of big plays by Booker to set up T.J. Warren and a deep 3-pointer made it a 105-104 Sixers lead with 5:22 left.

From there, it was about execution, and the Sixers outclassed the Suns in that area.

Getting whatever they wanted on offense, they also made life difficult for Booker on the other end, sending extra attention his way and forcing him to look elsewhere or take challenging shots.

A 14-4 Philadelphia run made it an 11-point game with 1:31 to go.

None of the Sixers fouled out, and they got a monster performance out of their fifth-leading scorer, Dario Saric, who had 27 points while J.J. Redick had another 22.

“I thought we did a good job fighting back in the second half but our bench, who’s been really good for us, just didn’t have a very good game,” Triano said.

Suns backup point guard Isaiah Canaan was the leading scorer off the bench with nine points. Shooting guard Troy Daniels shot 1-of-6, and rookie Josh Jackson was 2-for-10.

It was a good lesson for a Suns team that was surging, having won five of its last seven games. The Suns can battled back from a bad half in a game they didn’t deserve to win given how they played in those first 24 minutes, but they need proper execution throughout to take that next step.

“I just think the attention to detail you have to have on every possession — you can’t quantify it to a young team,” Jared Dudley said after the game.

“They don’t know how important it is because they haven’t been around the league. When you’re that close, you have to be so locked in.”

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