Booker-less Suns taken to pick-and-roll school in loss to Hornets
Jan 6, 2019, 10:02 PM | Updated: Jan 8, 2019, 12:06 pm
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
PHOENIX — Maybe the odds would be more in favor of the Phoenix Suns if Devin Booker and T.J. Warren had been dueling with Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker down the stretch.
Instead, with Booker sidelined the final 5:33 of the first half onward with back spasms, it was Warren, Jamal Crawford and Josh Jackson trading buckets with the opposing point guard.
Booker or not, the Suns had no answers defensively in a 119-113 defeat at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Walker scored the Hornets’ final 14 points in the last 2:12 of the game, relentlessly attacking Phoenix in the pick-and-roll. He held the 7-foot rookie Deandre Ayton off with a mid-air arm-bar and floated in a scooping bank once. Walker water-bugged under a straight-up-and-down Ayton for a reverse and-one on another switch.
And most painfully, with 22 seconds left and Phoenix down 112-111, Walker stepped back to lose Ayton and can a mid-range jumper.
“That dude is smooth, like, he just does it without any effort,” said Suns rookie point guard De’Anthony Melton, who appeared to hold up well until Walker flipped the switch in the fourth quarter.
Melton couldn’t work over screens fast enough to recover on an attacking Walker. Ayton didn’t get the right angles on Walker for all but one shot-block in the fourth.
And the Suns’ help defense didn’t give that duo much help in a shootout where both teams shot better than 48 percent.
“Coverage was to trap (Walker),” Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov said, if an observer couldn’t tell, adding ball containment was the biggest defensive issue.
Kemba dropped 18 points in the last 6 minutes of the game 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Rlq8oI6e7l
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 7, 2019
Charlotte came in with the highest usage of pick-and-rolls in several parts of the court, and as the most efficient. Phoenix knew it and it hardly mattered. Walker and 36-year-old Tony Parker carved them up for a combined 49 points.
Walker finished with 29 points after lofting a three-point heave from three-quarters court at the final buzzer.
Parker, as Kokoskov put it, looked like his former Spurs self, scoring 20 points in front of French protege Elie Okobo, the Suns rookie, and former Sun and fellow countryman Boris Diaw, who sat courtside.
If there was any consolation, the Suns for the first time in their six-game losing skid were in the game the entirety of the way, even after Booker suffered a back injury. Kokoskov said he was unsure of the extent of the injury or if it was related to Booker’s back bruise suffered Dec. 29 against Denver.
“Having him out, we really got to express our offense even more and have our guys step up more,” Ayton said of Booker. “And everybody stepped up today.”
Warren kept the Booker-less ship afloat for the Suns with 23 points — plus a season-high five assists — and Jackson scored a season-high 22 off the bench with six rebounds and found four more dimes.
Ayton finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, while Crawford added 16 more.
The Suns withered to Walker “just being stubborn and wanting what he want” down the stretch, Ayton said.
And while the pregame tape showed the Suns just how to handle those pick-and-rolls, they had few answers in terms of executing the gameplan.
“I would say it’s a chain reaction,” Kokoskov said when asked if it was more of the perimeter players or bigs who struggled to contain Walker. “Better locks on the ball, containing Kemba, and then weakside definitely hurt us. We have to shift from the weakside, if we’re containing the ball, if we’re trapping, if we’re building a wall in front of Kemba.
“It’s not Melton’s and Elie’s — whoever was guarding Kemba — or Ayton’s job. No. It’s five people on the court.”