EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns commit costly turnovers late in loss vs. Raptors

Mar 11, 2022, 11:21 PM | Updated: Mar 12, 2022, 12:48 am

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket against Khem Birch #24 of the Toronto Rapt...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket against Khem Birch #24 of the Toronto Raptors during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on March 11, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Phoenix Suns fans are starting to remember how fourth quarters can tend to go when you don’t have Chris Paul on your team.

Phoenix’s crunch-time execution, the staple of its NBA-best run in the regular season thus far, has unsurprisingly been a mixed bag in the now nine games without Paul.

Friday’s 117-112 loss to the Toronto Raptors encapsulated how the calm Paul brings to those moments can be chaotic if he’s not there pulling the strings.

In a roller coaster of a second half we’ll get to in a minute, the game ultimately came down to three straight Suns turnovers with 2:28 left in a tie game that resulted in six straight Raptors points.

Toronto was swarming and trapping the Suns’ Devin Booker, sometimes before he even got to a ball screen. That forced Phoenix into bad offense for four consecutive possessions, a look the Suns were able to take apart last postseason but struggled against on Friday.

“Not well,” Booker said of how they handled the game’s closing section. “I had a few turnovers that were costly [that allowed] them to get out in transition and get some easy ones.”

Point guard Cam Payne had one off a 4-on-3 pass by Booker where Booker was cornered at half-court by a pair of Raptors, and when Booker on the next play tried that same strategy to bring two defenders with him to a corner of the court so his teammates had more spacing, he had his pass intercepted by Toronto’s Scottie Barnes. Both resulted in the aforementioned runouts before the third was just bad luck of a Booker pass going through Mikal Bridges’ hands for another two free Toronto fastbreak points.

While there was a spirited comeback as a last grasp for Phoenix after that, it didn’t wind up mattering.

To address this before the train really starts to leave the station, the Raptors played a great basketball game. Barnes had five steals on his own and Toronto’s defense in those moments was excellent.

Yes, it was a winnable game for the Suns, but Toronto matches up really well with them and had the right recipe of things go right to pick up one of its best wins of the season.

Toronto’s (36-30) purposeful roster construction is based around having a bunch of dudes ranging from 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-10 that are long and versatile.

This especially came into play on Friday because it allowed the Raptors to throw various defenses Booker’s way so he couldn’t command the flow of the game, and the havoc that length creates forced meaningful turnovers.

“They kind of switched they coverages up a lot,” Payne said. “Kind of confused us a little bit, took us out of our normal plays. They got a lot of hands around there. They long.”

Toronto racked up 25 points off the Suns’ 16 turnovers.

“You got to do something really well to overcome that kind of a number,” head coach Monty Williams said of the 25 points.

The Raptors’ size saw them dominate the glass as well.

Defensive rebounding has been an issue for the Suns (53-14) since the All-Star break and it continued. Second-chance points were 13-0 Raptors through the first half, and while Phoenix got it to 15-10 Toronto by the end of the game, the +8 rebounding margin was significant.

Williams compared it to the narrow win his squad had in Toronto earlier in the year, a game in which the Raptors had 22 offensive rebounds and forced 20 Suns turnovers.

“Coming into the game we knew what type of team they were,” Booker said.

Schematically and matchup-wise, that went in the Raptors’ favor Friday toward a whole lot of points we can label as controllable for the Suns.

And then it was one of those nights for Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr., a microwave scorer who can go off at any time. Trent tied his season-high of 42 points, the ninth time this season he’s dropped 30+, and Williams felt his guys didn’t do a good job consistently getting into Trent’s space on the 3-point line where he hit eight triples.

To Williams’ point on the points off turnovers putting Phoenix in a bad spot, that sort of puts the Suns on the back foot, by default. They are now fighting uphill.

Phoenix, however, was moving the ball and defending well enough to keep the game within a possession or two for over two quarters.

But then the turning point arrived with 3:45 left in the third quarter with the Suns down two when they were issued two separate technical fouls after a Raptors 3-pointer.

From there, Booker had his jumper blocked and then ran back in transition defensively to commit a hard foul on Toronto’s Precious Achiuwa. He had been very frustrated with the officiating and it showed with how he went about fouling Achiuwa.

Players have been tossed for less, but fortunately for the Suns, it was just a Flagrant 1. Toronto, however, got the ball back after Achiuwa knocked down both free throws and then got another 3.

That added up to a 10-0 run in 31 seconds. Williams said his team needs to be “emotionally more regulated,” citing those technicals as “costing us momentum and giving points away when we don’t need to.”

Phoenix trailed by 14 through three quarters and had no momentum before Williams brought in the one-man momentum machine, Bismack Biyombo, who hadn’t entered the game yet.

In a two-big lineup alongside JaVale McGee, Biyombo contained Toronto’s Pascal Siakam by keeping the playmaking wing out of the paint while impacting the game offensively as well and owning the glass.

The Suns decided to embrace the chaos the Raptors were causing and trapped as well, leading to one of the biggest plays of the night from Biyombo on a gigantic block.

Bridges scored on the other end, and after Booker led a transition break and missed, Biyombo was there for the putback to cap off a 20-6 Suns run across the opening 7:24 of the fourth quarter to tie the game.

Phoenix led by two with 3:19 to go before the clutch time mishaps cost ’em.

The roller coaster even had one more air-sucking drop left after Toronto’s 6-0 run. Payne with 74 seconds remaining got two free throws and then a Booker 3 in transition had it at a one-point game.

For the Raptors’ next possession, Bridges had arguably the best block of his career on Siakam.

And then on the transition opportunity, the ball miraculously found Booker open again from deep, but this time he missed everything and Bridges turned over the offensive rebound. Booker would actually get another half-decent look, this time to tie the game with 12 seconds. That one, though, didn’t go down as well and that concluded the ride.

Booker had 22 points on 9-of-18 shooting with seven assists and three turnovers but it was a rare sighting of his +/- being out of whack at a game-low -21. The minutes with Booker plus the reserves in the tail-end of the first and third quarters have been rough the last few weeks and the bench’s 1-of-9 shooting at range didn’t make Toronto pay for overplaying Booker.

Payne added a team-high 24 points with four assists and three turnovers on the same 9-for-18 conversion rate from the field.

Siakam was the man for Toronto besides Trent, registering 25 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists.

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