Suns jump on sleepy Celtics, proceed to blow 15-point lead in OT loss
PHOENIX — There are two different versions of the 2018-19 Phoenix Suns.
There is the version that showed up in seven of 11 games, including a 104-82 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday that saw them booed off the floor. That version has little to no effort, consistently looks lost and doesn’t fight back.
And then there is the version we’ve now seen in four of 11 games, the Suns who do compete, play with energy and look like an actual team.
That was the team that showed up on Thursday, but the Suns got caught off-guard with a great team coming back from a huge deficit and Phoenix looked clueless late in a 116-109 overtime loss to the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics were missing tons of open looks throughout and they were quite lackadaisical at times. In need of a response after Tuesday, the Suns gave one, scoring 32 points in the first quarter. They had a 55-35 lead at halftime.
Phoenix had a 15-point advantage at the start of the fourth quarter that was a 14-point lead with 3:45 left. They were still up eight with 90 seconds left. At that point, ESPN had their odds to win at 98 percent.
“If you blew a 16-point lead in five minutes, a lot has to go wrong,” shooting guard Devin Booker said.
With a little over four minutes, point guard Isaiah Canaan was dribbling the ball without moving and center Deandre Ayton shrugged at him.
The Suns were clearly trying to run out the clock and that was never going to work against a great Celtics team.
Predictably, the Celtics brought it back to a six-point deficit with 43 seconds left after Booker made one of two free throws.
Less than 10 seconds later, Kyrie Irving drilled a three for Boston. Booker took matters into his own hands up three with 35.9 seconds left, but Irving stripped him and the transition break for Boston ended in a Jaylen Brown lay-in to have it at 98-97 Phoenix with 7.3 seconds left.
After T.J. Warren was fouled and made both free throws, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens drew up one of the brilliant plays he is known for in the clutch that resulted in a three by former Sun Marcus Morris to tie the game and send it to overtime.
The question immediately came as to why the Suns did not foul up three.
Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov explained the plan after the game.
“The coverage was to black any ball screen — which is switching — and also any catch that far out from the 3-point line was to foul,” Kokoskov said. “The call was foul.”
As the video above shows, Morris had the ball for well over a second on the catch and could have been fouled by Booker.
Ayton, Booker and Canaan, however, all said after the game the plan was to switch everything but did not mention fouling.
That miscommunication brought on an overtime that was easy to see coming.
Ayton and Canaan had played nearly the entire fourth quarter and the Celtics were aware of that, ruthlessly attacking them in pick-and-roll coverages in overtime to easy scores.
The Suns were, quite simply, tired and a bit rattled as well.
“I think it was more being tired,” Kokoskov said of the closing stretch. “Being tired and I think we stopped running our offense. We didn’t run much.”
Ayton played 38 minutes and the rest of the starters had at least 40 minutes. No reserve had over 15 minutes of playing time. Josh Jackson, notably, only played five and did not appear in the game after the first half.
The blown lead and scenes late overshadowed what was a great performance out of T.J. Warren, who continues to look like a better player and much better shooter this season.
Warren had 29 points on 17 shots and also grabbed seven rebounds.
Booker was 10-of-17 at one point but finished 15-of-30 with 38 points and nine assists. As Kokoskov said after the game, most of the Suns’ offense in the last nine minutes was solely on Booker’s scoring creation and he can only do so much.
The talk of the town will be the fouling mixup and the team’s collapse, but the game was ultimately a showing of progression from the Suns after an awful loss to Brooklyn two days prior, something Ayton touched on.
“I’m proud,” he said. “I’m not sad [at] this game or moping. I think we did pretty good. If we can play like that we can beat a lot of teams in this league if we just come at them like that. Throw the first punch and keep throwing them.
“But just not giving up or letting them throw punches back, so I think this is a big step for us. We took like four steps today so I’m happy.”