Hurting Suns slow out of the gate, show fight late in loss on road to Kings
Through 11 games, the Phoenix Suns had competed in just about every second of a demanding schedule. They continued to show a knack for a certain brand of tenacity, fighting back and hanging around in games.
They hadn’t 1) failed to show a complete effort as a team and 2) been blown out in a game.
After having both of those happen on Monday in a loss to the Boston Celtics, they at least battled back from a severe deficit on Tuesday in another defeat, this time 120-116 to the Sacramento Kings.
It’s the first time all season the Suns have lost two games in a row.
This was a better effort than Monday, as the Suns showed some serious fight in the last 15 minutes after trailing by as many as 26 and going down double digits in just nine minutes.
The second unit behind Mikal Bridges and Elie Okobo kept the game within 9-15 points when it had no right to be there, forcing the Kings to earn it. They went on a 24-10 run to end the third quarter and got the deficit down to five in the last minute of the fourth. Okobo, playing over Jevon Carter, was a game-high plus-18 and played the last 18:19 of the game.
The troubling way in which they played, though, was the same.
It appears that when Phoenix has enough missing bodies and hurting players that they can revert back to last year’s form.
Aron Baynes missed his first game of the season due to a left hip contusion and Ricky Rubio was clearly not 100% playing through back spasms that had him miss Monday’s loss. Rubio started the first half and then did not return in the second half.
So with Rubio playing injured for one half, the Suns were down two centers — Baynes and the suspended Deandre Ayton — and essentially two point guards due to Ty Jerome’s continued absence via a sprained ankle.
That and their failure to hit shots was too overwhelming for them to compete either night. After shooting 10-for-36 (27.8%) from deep on Monday, they started 2-of-14 against Sacramento and finished 12-of-36 (33.3%).
While it wasn’t necessarily pretty or the most inspired basketball, they were in it through one quarter if some of those shots go down. Alas, they did not, so they were down 14 through a first quarter Devin Booker played all of.
That was a bad sign, but Booker got going in the second quarter with 12 points. Unfortunately, former Sun Bogdan Bogdanovic caught fire on the other side and his 14 points and two assists in only five minutes halted any momentum the Suns could seize.
Still, with Booker in rhythm, there was a chance despite a 17-point Kings lead at halftime.
But the lethargic, unorganized brand of basketball we’ve grown accustomed to the past few seasons was still present for the Suns in the third quarter and that was a sign that there was nothing else there in the game.
That’s where the spark came via Bridges. He had his best game of the year, a notable part of this game considering the poor start to the season he’s had. Bridges finished with 20 points, five rebounds and two steals in 26 minutes.
Cam Johnson was also hitting shots off the bench, knocking down four three-pointers and ending the night with 18 points in 26 minutes.
It was ultimately one of those nights where if Booker had more help early on, the Suns win. He was terrific, racking up 30 points with five rebounds, eight assists and two steals.
Kelly Oubre Jr., along with Booker and Johnson, was the only other player to show much in the first half. He had 20 points, eight rebounds, two assists and five steals.
Rubio clearly couldn’t move right and looked bothered when shooting the ball. He missed all seven of his shots and had two assists in 16 minutes.
Bogdanovic, who was traded by the Suns in the Marquese Chriss deal during the 2016 NBA Draft, scored a career-high 31 for Sacramento. Former Suns center Richaun Holmes added 20 points and 15 rebounds.
With a day off on Wednesday for the Suns, the hope is that Rubio and Baynes get healthy and the energy they showed in the second half of the second game of a back-to-back on the road is enough to build off and pick up where they left off to open the season, avoiding a slump and rut.
The Suns host the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, their only nationally televised game of the season on TNT. Tip-off is set for 8:30 p.m. and pregame coverage starts 30 minutes prior on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.