EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns go down swinging vs. Jazz after Devin Booker sprains ankle
PHOENIX — Whatever threads of optimism that hung to the 18-60 Phoenix Suns with four games left snapped when Devin Booker twisted his ankle Wednesday.
OK, so there were still positive signs in a 118-97 loss to the Utah Jazz at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Rookie Elie Okobo kept the Suns’ offense productive, leading the team with 15 points in just 25 minutes.
Phoenix remained close down a full starting lineup’s worth of players against a Jazz team fighting for playoff seeding.
Utah, down five rotation players itself, used 19 combined points from Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell in the fourth quarter to outscore the Suns 34-21 in the period. They eventually broke away from a young team that flashed a decent bit of fight.
Speaking of breaking, an x-ray on the ankle of Booker came back negative, but the Suns await results of an MRI that will tell them the severity of the ankle sprain.
“It’s hard to replace (the) franchise. It’s hard to replace Book,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “Book is (a) special player and special player for our team, but overall I think we didn’t think about what happened. We were thinking about next play. Which was good.”
Phoenix trailed Utah 56-53 at half after Booker’s exit with 4:28 in the first quarter. Jump to 5:36 left in the game, and Utah led just 99-94.
“I think we were just — we were able to get to our spots little bit on offense. Our offense was flowing kind of smoothly,” said Richaun Holmes, who closed with 14 points and seven rebounds. “Joe Ingles got hot. That’s what he does. They’re a good team. I felt like we had the game close until the last few minutes.”
It was a loss, nonetheless, one that played into the NBA Draft Lottery to a great degree.
Because the Chicago Bulls won on Wednesday, Phoenix secured itself a 14 percent chance to earn the No. 1 overall pick. Those are the best odds shared with the New York Knicks (15-63) and Cleveland Cavaliers (19-59) in the current upside-down standings.
Without Booker providing a show like he did by scoring 59 against Utah in their last meeting on March 25, the game came with its oddities.
Once Booker joined Deandre Ayton, Kelly Oubre, Tyler Johnson and T.J. Warren on the injured list, Josh Jackson took it upon himself to be the offensive focal point coming off arguably his best game as a pro Monday against Cleveland. That didn’t carry over.
He missed all but one of his first seven shots, finishing 5-of-14 from the field. In 34 minutes, Jackson had 12 points, four rebounds and three assists but was a team-worst minus-31 in plus-minus.
Polarizing former BYU star Jimmer Fredette also came off the bench for the Suns and looked for his own, on his first touch posting up the much larger Georges Niang only to travel. Soon after that, he left rookie shooter Grayson Allen open in the corner on the other end.
Fredette went 5-of-11 from the field for 10 points.
Speaking of Allen, who had quite the college career under the spotlight while attending college at Duke, he was a roller-coaster himself.
The rookie went 4-of-5 from the floor in eight minutes during the first half but turned the ball over three times. After being attacked on offense by the Suns’ De’Anthony Melton, Allen shoved the point guard with Utah pushing the ball in transition offense — he was whistled for a foul.
All of that silliness played to a relatively energetic crowd, and it came after Phoenix built 10-0 lead to start the game and led by as many as 13 in the first quarter, looking sharp.
“(Booker’s injury is) frustrating, you know, but it’s part of the game,” said Holmes, who fought through a thigh bruise and sprained ankle to finish the game. “Already shorthanded … Book goes down. Even more of a reason you just want to get back up and stay out and fight with you guys as much as possible. Just try to gut it out, just try to compete every game.”
They scrapped on defense, forcing 20 Jazz turnovers leading to 15 points.
They held center Rudy Gobert off the offensive glass, outscoring Utah 12-5 in second-chance points, and remained within reach despite allowing the Jazz to shoot 55 percent. Of course, Utah was without starters Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder, plus reserves Dante Exum and Kyle Korver.
“Before the game, we were talking about last three games that we played this team: fourth-quarter was crucial,” Kokoskov said. “Now when you add this … it’s a bitter taste in our mouth.”
Just three games remain for the Suns to get that taste out.
And it’s possible they’ll have to do so without their young franchise star.