Suns stay flat after quick start against Grizzlies, suffer bad loss at home

Dec 11, 2019, 10:43 PM
Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes, top, battles with Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., bot...
Phoenix Suns center Aron Baynes, top, battles with Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., bottom, for a loose ball as Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder (99) looks on during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, in Phoenix. The Grizzlies defeated the Suns 115-108. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — Stick with me on the obviousness layered into this statement:

There won’t be many opportunities for the Phoenix Suns this season to play against bad teams and have those teams play poorly against them.

The NBA, especially in the Western Conference, doesn’t present those types of freebies too often.

A great example is when the Washington Wizards, one of the worst teams in the league, came to town on Nov. 27 and managed to shoot 57% with 19 made three-pointers. The Suns were off that night as well and could have won but the point remains.

In order to be a playoff team, you have to make up for those nights by taking care of business when, well, somewhat of a version of the Suns the past few years arrives on the schedule at a point where you need a win.

That was the 7-16 Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. While they had some good energy in the second half and made shots in the fourth quarter, they were begging to be blown out most of the night.

The 11-0 lead the Suns jumped out to was a testament of that, but then they were tremendously flat the rest of the game, going through lackadaisical motions in a 115-108 loss.

“Games like this are must-win for us, especially with the way that we’ve been playing recently and we dropped the ball today,” Devin Booker said. “I think we came in complacent, thinking it was going to be easier than it was.”

With the context of a fully healthy Suns team coming off a very needed bounce-back win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, the Grizzlies presented a chance to get some momentum going with the impending return of Deandre Ayton.

Instead, it was the worst loss of the young season.

Ricky Rubio saw it in a similar light.

“That can’t happen again. I think it’s one of the worst, if not the worst loss of the season,” he said.

In the first quarter as an answer to the 11-0 Suns advantage, Memphis went on a 27-8 run. After shooting 4-for-5 to open the night, Phoenix missed 17 of their next 20 shots.

“In my opinion, that was fools gold,” Monty Williams said after the game of the 11-0 run.

That’s a recipe for getting blown out yourself, but alas, Memphis could never find a high enough gear to blow out the Suns, a nod to the level of team they are right now. Repeated mini-spurts by Phoenix kept them afloat, all the way until the closing moments of the game when they were within four.

But, in what has been a trend in the past 10 games, they couldn’t get multiple stops when they needed them.

“We just didn’t have a defensive focus tonight,” Williams said.

Frank Kaminsky was the lone Suns player to consistently have it going offensively all game. He scored 24 points, including 15 in the first half.

The Suns’ ball movement in the stat sheet was what they wanted, with 29 assists on 37 field goals and only 12 turnovers.

But, like those watching, Williams was thrown off by that and thought the flow wasn’t quite there like it normally is, noting he “can’t wait” to see the film on it specifically.

The defeat was one where a great or even good Booker would have been enough to reverse the result. He was off all night, though, as the normal touch shots he has made a signature from the mid-range area were not falling.

Booker shot 6-for-17 from the field, his second-worst shooting percentage in a game this season. He still managed 15 points, four rebounds and 10 assists.

On his lower right arm, Booker has had tape near his wrist since Monday’s win. He had even more tape on it Wednesday and was seen during the game fiddling with his hand.

Williams said after the game Booker is fine, and when Booker was asked about it, he said it was a bruise and that he did not re-aggravate it during the game. He has not been listed on the injury report.

Rubio had a few possessions he was clearly trying to score in the second half to get it going for the team, but he couldn’t be the stand-in for Booker despite a productive and efficient line of 22 points and eight assists on 7-of-15 shooting.

Phoenix shot 39.8% on field goals and 26.5% from three-point range.

This is far from the type of loss that should encourage panic. The Suns are going to have stinkers this season and this was one of them. This was more so about how jarring it was to see Phoenix out of sorts to this degree, as they continue to limp across the finish line of Ayton’s 25-game suspension.

“We didn’t play with energy,” Rubio said. “They out-worked us. Games like that, we can’t play like that.”

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