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Throwback Spurs performance gets Suns out of sorts in 26-point loss

(AP photo)

PHOENIX — Good defense leading to good offense has been maybe the mantra of the year for the Phoenix Suns during a very successful regular season.

And it really stands out when that’s not the case, because they look like a different team when one end isn’t helping the other.

The San Antonio Spurs, fresh off playing against the Portland Trail Blazers the night prior and without DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills and Jakob Poeltl, came into town with a clear understanding of how to attack the Suns’ defense. The execution was almost as good as the shot-making out of that, and it affected the Suns’ offense too.

Certainly sounds like the Spurs of old, and Phoenix could never find a rhythm Saturday because of it in a sloppy 111-85 loss.

“When we did get stops and we got the rebound and were able to get out and run — which didn’t happen a lot — it looked like a totally different team out there,” head coach Monty Williams said. “It just didn’t happen enough.”

The Suns only scored 19 points in the first quarter and were down nine at the end of it before trailing by 19 at halftime.

Williams emphasized this being a case of the Suns losing sight of what has gotten them to this point.

“As much as I hate losing games, it affirms what we preach around here and how we play,” Williams said. “Defending, competing and sharing the ball — that’s what we have to do every night and we did not do that consistently tonight.”

“It’s just playing hard and competing, and I don’t think that was there for us tonight,” Devin Booker added.

It felt like that compounded the issues given how crisp San Antonio was playing.

“They were making a lot of shots and we couldn’t find our rhythm (offensively), so that’s a tough matchup right there,” Booker said.

A majority of the actions San Antonio ran in the second quarter were with Deandre Ayton’s man screening and the guards taking advantage of Ayton’s drop coverage. The Spurs were hitting shots in the midrange off this and getting looks at the rim as well.

San Antonio started the quarter 10-of-12 from the field, including a run of scoring on nine straight possessions. The Spurs ended that period 14-of-21 (66.7%) and Chris Paul was minus-14 in it.

The adjustment came to open the second half, with Ayton coming further out to pressure the ball-handler and even switching in some situations. It was more effective, but the problems offensively and the Spurs having their mojo by then proved to be too much.

With San Antonio up 21 at the 9:31 mark, no team would score for almost two minutes. That was a little window for the Suns’ offense to get back in the flow. It didn’t, and the Spurs’ lead got to as high as 27 in the third before a 19-point deficit faced Phoenix for the fourth.

That started with Torrey Craig at the 5, something Williams tried on Thursday and brought back Saturday, with the Suns switching the majority of San Antonio’s actions.

Jevon Carter tried his best to spark the team, scoring a team-high 17 points and hitting a few 3s in the second half. After Paul got five minutes to try and will the team back, Williams brought in the end of the bench at the 5:46 mark down 27.

The Spurs had seven players in double figures, including a game-high 19 off the bench from Rudy Gay and 18 more via rookie reserve Devin Vassell.

Devin Booker had his second rough night in three games, and he wasn’t particularly stellar in Thursday’s win, either. He shot 6-of-18 for 15 points.

Ditto for Paul. He’s made three or fewer field goals in three of his last four games, posting a 3-of-10 outing on Saturday for six points.

It’s certainly not the form the Suns want their All-Star backcourt in heading into far and away the most difficult part of the schedule, which begins on Monday with a stretch of five games in eight days on the east coast. Those five opponents make up five of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference, and then it’s back home to host the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz.

Williams said fixing Saturday’s mistakes in time for that road trip is “not an easy correction, but one we can make.”

“When the ball’s stagnant, when we’re not getting into the ball in pick-and-rolls and they’re just playing in our paint knocking down shot after shot, you just kinda feel like it’s not going to be your night,” Williams said.

The Suns have had that attribute all year long, getting over bad losses quickly and rebounding from them. They haven’t lost two games in a row in nearly three months, and that’ll be put to the test more than ever in Milwaukee against the Bucks on Monday.

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