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Suns crumble in crunch time, lose physical battle with Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul (3) dives for a loose ball, beating Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) to it during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in Phoenix. The Thunder won 111-107. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns continue to sprint into the brick wall of finishing out close games, and only a few times this season has that not resulted in getting flattened instead of breaking through.

From 4:21 of the fourth quarter to 20 seconds remaining, the Suns didn’t score and gave up 13 points on the other end in a 111-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“They hit big shots and we didn’t have the execution we had against Dallas,” head coach Monty Williams said.

The story of the first half was the Suns being some help for Devin Booker away from being up big on the Thunder. Instead, they were down one at the half.

The support did come in the second half through 15 of Kelly Oubre Jr.’s 27 points and all six of Deandre Ayton’s rebounds to go with 10 of his 16 points.

With the energy Phoenix was playing with and a so-so performance from the Thunder, that should have been enough to get the win.

But then that run in crunch time.

The “swing” came with the Suns up three and roughly two minutes to go. Booker missed an open three-pointer, Dennis Schroder converted on one and then Booker didn’t knock down a difficult baseline mid-range jumper he also usually makes.

A turnover by Oklahoma City gave the Suns a chance to regain their composure in a tie game, but Chris Paul swiped the ball away from Oubre and then hit his signature mid-range jumper the other way down to make the game feel iced with 1:03 left and Phoenix down two.

“That’s the thing you’re afraid of, you’re almost trying to run plays away from him, but he just made a great play,” Williams said of Paul, who Williams can make a claim like that for because he’s well aware of Paul’s prowess after coaching him for a year in New Orleans.

In that little segment of the game that wound up deciding it, Williams pointed towards two key statistics that also put them in that position.

The Suns had 20 turnovers and allowed 15 offensive rebounds, 10 of which were in the first 24 minutes.

We shouldn’t gloss over the controversial missed call at the end of the game despite that not being the reason the Suns lost.

After the Thunder were up six with under 15 seconds to go, the game got goofy and eventually came down to Oubre taking his second foul shot with Phoenix down two and four seconds left.

Oubre made a sensational play, throwing the ball off the rim to himself.

The referee, though, inexplicably called a lane violation when Oubre was clearly not over the line yet.

Williams said after the game that he thinks it might have been due to officials keeping an extra close eye on the violation because of a similar play that recently made waves in the league.

On that play by the Sacramento Kings’ De’Aaron Fox, he clearly stepped in the lane before the ball got back into play.

Alas, the Suns were not afforded that luxury. Oubre would not comment on the play after the game.

On the replay, fans on Twitter pointed out that official Marc Davis wasn’t even looking at the play when he made the call.

Booker ended the night with 27 points, three rebounds and five assists on 9-for-18 shooting. Phoenix got another strong boost from Ty Jerome off the bench, who had nine points, four rebounds and four assists with a plus-19 in 19 minutes.

Danilo Gallinari had 27 points, and honestly, a lot of the credit should go to Paul.

With weird cross-match situations happening all night and the Suns switching a lot, Paul played the role of quarterback to get Gallinari on some favorable matchups.

It was wonderful to see him orchestrating by pointing guys in certain directions both while he was making the play with the ball and even after he would pass it. Paul, who was one of the players to get an All-Star reserve nod over Booker, had 20 points, six rebounds, 10 assists and three steals.

That type of execution all game long from the “Point God” outweighed what the Suns had in that department as a collective, something they as a team will have to improve on before they take the next step.

UP NEXT

After one quick game at home that followed a three-game road trip. it’s another three-game road trip for the Suns that starts in Milwaukee on Sunday. That’s a noon tip-off for Phoenix on Super Bowl Sunday that you can hear on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

INJURY NOTES

— Dario Saric left the game after the first quarter with a left ankle sprain and did not return. Williams had no update on his status.

Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky are already sidelined with injuries, leaving Ayton and Cheick Diallo as the only healthy bigs. The Suns did recently sign Tariq Owens to a two-way contract, who it is safe to say will be with Phoenix on the road trip.


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