Shorthanded Suns lose Jackson to injury, fall late to Pistons
PHOENIX — Bad news outweighed the good on Thursday.
The Phoenix Suns got Richaun Holmes back in the lineup, but were already without starting point guard Tyler Johnson and lost a key cog in Kelly Oubre Jr. for the remainder of the season with a thumb injury earlier in the day.
The lack of bodies hurt the Suns, who lost Josh Jackson to an ankle injury in the third quarter in a 118-98 defeat to Detroit Thursday night.
“We didn’t have enough to win this game,” Suns head coach Igor Kokoskov said after the loss. “A little bit too short, too slow in every segment. We didn’t have enough when it comes to the offense, the defense and I think we tried.
“I can’t remember a game where we didn’t try and we didn’t compete. But competing is not good enough, we have to play well too. We just have to play better.”
Even with fewer available bodies than normal, Phoenix was able to keep it close with the Pistons for much of the evening.
Shooting an efficient 68.4 percent in the opening 12 minutes, the Suns got off to a quick start, taking a 32-29 advantage into the second quarter.
The Pistons, on the other hand, shot 39.3 percent from the field, but also knocked in 5 of their 13 three-pointers. The Suns had just one make in the quarter.
Devin Booker 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the opening quarter, leading all scorers.
But just as it looked like “Point Book” was going to go for a season high in points, he cooled off in the second quarter, only scoring five more before halftime.
Even though Booker cooled off and Deandre Ayton was the only other Sun in double figures through two quarters (14), the Suns held a slim 60-58 lead at the half.
The third quarter is when things started to go astray.
The Suns not only started running into foul trouble, but Booker started to run out of gas.
“We were competing as long as we could,” Kokoskov said. “Book gave us everything for his half, 20 points, he was involved, had high usage as usual, but they were blitzing, they were trapping all [through the] third quarter and it wasn’t easy.
“The game wasn’t easy for [Booker].”
On top of that, the Suns were hit with Jackson’s injury.
With 5:45 left in the third quarter, Jackson was attempting to block a Detroit player in the post. He came down awkwardly and was seen grabbing his right ankle in pain on the court. Jackson was helped off the court where he went to the locker room and did not return.
Fortunately, Kokoskov said the injury was not “severe” and he would update his status in the coming days.
Following the injury, the Suns looked like a team with no wind left in its sails as Phoenix closed out the quarter down 87-80. The Pistons also kept hitting from long range, knocking down 15 threes through three quarters.
“No excuses, we have five guys on the court,” Kokoskov said when asked how the injury hurt the team. “Be ready, be prepared, be ready for whenever the team needs you and just step on the court and perform.
“It changes the game a lot, the fact that Josh left the game but it’s an NBA game. Try to give your best to win the game, or you don’t.”
After holding a lead or keeping it within single digits through three quarters, the Suns didn’t have enough left in the tank to continue trading blows with the Pistons.
Taking advantage of the gassed Suns, the Pistons grew their biggest league in the final quarter, going up 20 points before the final buzzer.
Booker paced the Suns with 26 points, while Ayton chipped in 20 and eight rebounds. Mikal Bridges set a career-high in assists with seven and scored 13 points.
“I want to finish this [season] out the right way,” Booker said with nine games remaining in the regular season. “We’re down a lot of bodies so the odds are stacked against us but we just have to get better every night, play with each other and have fun.”
Wayne Ellington led the way for Detroit with 23 points on the night, while Andre Drummond added 16 points and a game-high 19 rebounds.
Up next, the Suns travel to Sacramento to take on the Kings. Catch all the action on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.