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Suns’ offensive ruts finally come back to bite them in OT loss to Detroit

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) makes a layup as Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Throughout the Phoenix Suns’ 6-2 start, the offense through the starting five has underwhelmed. It has often been one of the stories of the games, sometimes even mentioned right here at the start of a game recap.

In those six wins, they found ways to come out on top despite that. In those two losses, it wasn’t necessarily the focal point of why they failed to end up victorious.

It sure was, however, in Friday’s 110-105 loss in overtime to the Detroit Pistons.

The Suns scored only 51 points in the last 35 minutes of the game. That included a six-minute run to close the first half of just two points, a 20-point third quarter and a 17-point fourth quarter.

Phoenix (6-3) jumped out to a 54-31 advantage, boosted by Langston Galloway’s 17 points off the bench in just eight minutes of the second quarter. Somewhere in that quarter, Pistons (2-7) head coach Dwane Casey employed a matchup zone that the Suns couldn’t solve all night.

“I think they just junked up the game a little bit,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “Switch defenses and changed the energy of the ball. I think we were still getting good looks and wide-open shots. That’s what a zone usually does — just off rhythm a little bit and takes us out of our stuff.”

On top of that, the Suns went ice cold from three-point range. After starting 12-of-18, they missed 29 of their final 34 attempts.

“We wanted to get to the paint,” Williams said, noting 52 three-point attempts was probably too many. “I thought there were times where we — against their zone — went one-pass-shot or one-action-shot and didn’t make their zone work enough. Tonight, we didn’t make enough shots to get them out of it.”

Williams brought up the value of each of those shots, which is assumingly him referring to metrics that determine the value based on where the shot was from and how open the shooter was. He also said he’ll check the film to be sure those were the right looks.

At a certain point, Chris Paul or Booker had to take over the game and get points another way. That was abundantly clear by the end of the third quarter. They’ve both been in enough games like that to know it. Neither, though, could do it, as the development of their cohesion continues at the pace of a crawl.

The Pistons’ offense sludged through the Suns’ attentive defense after trailing by eight at halftime, tying the game at two different points before finally leading by one point with under three minutes remaining.

The game script stayed consistent with both offenses flummoxed. Booker missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, and the Pistons’ 7-0 run to start it was enough to pull off the upset. That extra effort will be costly with a game in Indiana on tap the next evening.

Detroit’s Jerami Grant was the best player on the floor. His final tally was 31 points and 10 rebounds on 15 shots.

Paul was 5-for-11 with 11 points and nine assists.

Booker shot 8-for-18, with 12 of those attempts coming from three-point range. That’s the most threes Booker has taken in a game since November of 2018. He finished with 23 points, three assists and five turnovers.

The offense was why the Suns lost. But Williams was quick to bring up that the Suns’ 20 turnovers contributing to 23 Pistons points and Detroit’s other 18 second-chance points were areas of the game they could still control. After all, winning those battles over 48 minutes is a large reason why they have six wins in nine games.

It was a weak whistle on Friday night, one Williams said he wasn’t going to get fined about or blame the loss on. The Suns had 13 free throw attempts while the Pistons shot 29.

Williams again brought up those turnover and second-chance points numbers as what they could have done to make up for calls not going in their favor.

With the Suns’ great defense now certified and expected, the theme of the night is now going to continue coming back to the offense. It’s going to need to gel eventually.

“I think we got comfortable,” Booker said of the loss. “Instead of putting them away, we gave them life. That’s a credit to the turnovers. They threw a couple junk defenses at us when we were hitting shots, couple zones, started switching everything and it took us out of our stuff and I still think we got some good looks.”

After Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, Williams mentioned that the Clippers’ defensive tweak of switching threw them off. He noted that again on Friday. He also mentioned the same zone look from Detroit that gave them fits was one they handled with ease in a win against Sacramento earlier this year.

“This is the second game where we’ve come out and played decent offense and then teams have thrown somewhat of a changeup on defense at us and we haven’t been able to either hit shots or execute properly,” Williams said. ” And that’s something that I have to figure out and help our guys do better.”

Until they do figure it out, their heads are going to keep hitting a capped ceiling, and that’ll keep knocking them over for losses that should have been wins like Friday.

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