EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns get surprisingly outworked, have rough shooting night in loss to Kings

Dec 27, 2020, 12:06 AM | Updated: 12:09 am
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, goes to the basket against Sacramento Kings center Richaun ...

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, goes to the basket against Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

When a team establishes an identity, that’s the one place it can’t get beat on the floor.

Head coach Monty Williams said after the Phoenix Suns’ 106-103 loss to the Sacramento Kings that it’s been a long time since he’s watched his team get outworked.

“That’s not how you start games on the road,” Williams said. “Our first quarter was really poor, and we were only down six, and we played poorly.”

The Kings opened the game up 15-2. Williams waited longer than normal to call a timeout, something that can likely be attributed to what was said above and also having veterans like Chris Paul and Jae Crowder on the floor. But his group stayed in what he described as a “trot” and he eventually took that timeout four minutes in.

From there, the Suns (1-1) made up ground to make it a tightly contested game throughout. To the Kings’ (2-0) credit, though, they kept up with the intensity they had from the jump.

Sacramento had 15 offensive rebounds, was plus-16 on the glass, plus-20 on free throw attempts and scored 62 points in the paint.

“We can’t start games in a trot or thinking that we’ve done something,” Williams said.

“Rebounding and transition defense,” point guard Chris Paul said of what was the key. “Stuff that we knew coming into the game … all the stuff coach told us that we need to be conscious of they beat us on.”

That’s the story in a loss. With that in mind, it goes a bit more under the radar if the Suns hit a few more three-pointers.

Phoenix shot 11-of-44 (25%) from deep. The bench was 2-for-18.

“If you look at our shot quality tonight, I mean how many open looks did we get,” Williams said.

Sacramento deployed a switch-heavy defensive scheme and was sending heavy double teams the way of Devin Booker or Deandre Ayton when the young duo found mismatches. Those two are more than capable of making the right pass out of those situations and they continued to do that. The shots just didn’t fall.

It was a lot of open looks like Williams said and from desirable locations too. The Suns attempted 15% of their total shots in the game from the corners, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s a number they’ll be lucky to beat all year, and they only managed to shoot 3-for-15 on those three-point attempts.

Booker had a terrific first quarter, scoring 11 points, while Paul floor generaled the absolute crap out of the game in the second. Time after time, Paul kept deploying the Suns’ offense in a spot where it was putting the Kings’ defense on its heels.

Star efforts in each quarter kept the Suns only down four at the half and they looked like a team in a fine position to win as long as they started hitting shots. They never did, all while the Kings kept working. And working. And working.

De’Aaron Fox was the leader of that, playing a sensational two-way game. His impact was felt everywhere through 24 points, four rebounds and seven assists.

Down two points, the Suns got back-to-back critical stops with under two minutes to go. And on both, former big man Richaun Holmes came down with a huge offensive rebound to get five total points out of it. After a Booker miss trailing by four with 44 seconds to go, another Kings miss was snagged by Sacramento. That effectively ended it while also bringing the theme of the game full circle.

Paul finished with 22 points, five rebounds and 12 assists. Booker shot 10-of-21 from the field for a game-high 26 points and Jae Crowder added 17.

Paul said he didn’t think he capitalized off the switches enough and went on to say unprompted that he needs get his big fella more touches.

Ayton did well passing out of the double teams, perhaps a time too many though when he had the ball right under the rim. With the Kings lacking a true center in the starting lineup, those doubles kept coming and it limited his production. To be fair, it was another one of those nights where his aggression was not where it needed to be as well. Ayton took only five shots, ending the night with nine points and 12 rebounds.

There are issues that can now be labeled as persistent two games into the season. Ayton got into foul trouble again. Booker now has 15 turnovers in two games. Damian Jones’ minutes behind Ayton were once again problematic, to the point where Frank Kaminsky got three in the fourth quarter when Ayton got his fifth foul. Crowder said the team’s communication in transition defense isn’t where it needs to be.

All that is to be expected. Well, not those areas specifically, of course. But certainly, a notion of everything not clicking into place instantaneously is fine. Especially with a short ramp-up and a handful of new pieces, while missing a key one in Dario Saric.

Phoenix, however, is beyond the concept of moral victories, something Paul told the locker room after the loss.

“We got such a great group of guys that we don’t have to lose to learn a lesson,” Paul added.

The man is right. The Suns shouldn’t need to drop a game like Saturday’s to realize they can’t get outworked when that’s what they do.

The fun part is the Suns get to attempt to correct all that in less than 24 hours. They remain in Sacramento for their first back-to-back in the same arena, a new twist of the 2020-21 condensed schedule.

Paul compared it to baseball, and both he and Crowder said recovery will be key.

Williams said pregame he was not concerned with the context of the game arguably trending towards minutes restrictions.

“I hadn’t really thought about managing as much as I am about winning,” he said. “I think if that gets in the way then I’m thinking about the wrong thing.”

Williams played Paul 33 minutes. Booker hit 38 and Crowder 33. Williams staggered Paul and Booker the whole game on a night that had a high, high level of pace and effort.

He went for the win and didn’t get it, so with that on top of those aforementioned persistent issues, Sunday’s 7 p.m. tip has quite a few wrinkles to it.

Penguin Air

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