EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns rally back from slow start, multiple absences to beat Kings in OT

Mar 20, 2022, 7:35 PM

It took an effort that felt like pulling hairs but the Phoenix Suns eventually completed a great comeback on the road against the Sacramento Kings for a 127-124 win in overtime.

“We just stayed in the fight and we were able to pull out a big win on the road,” head coach Monty Williams said.

“Just proud of the mental toughness we had,” Williams added.

Phoenix overcame an in-game injury to Jae Crowder (right ankle), Deandre Ayton fouling out with a minute to go in regulation and Devin Booker getting the same disqualification at 51 seconds remaining in overtime. And that was on a night the Suns were already once again without Cam Johnson (right quad contusion) and Chris Paul (right thumb avulsion fracture), plus point guard Cam Payne was a late scratch due to a non-COVID-19 related illness.

“Just a team win. It takes a special group to do what we did,” Booker said.

They created some adversity for themselves too after a sleepy opening to the game.

A Sunday afternoon start against a bad team was enough to take the wind out of the Suns’ sails that we normally see. Phoenix played with little to no intensity on both ends for the first 10 minutes, which allowed the Kings to feel comfortable.

Sacramento took advantage of that, and even though the Suns picked it up a bit late in the first quarter, the Kings now had a rhythm. They shot 11-of-19 (61.1%) from 3-point range in the first half while the Suns had 10 assists and seven turnovers with a 42.9 field goal percentage. Yes, that’s a pretty high conversion rate for the Kings but a handful of those makes were with space.

Phoenix was down 10 at halftime. The uphill trek on that comeback combined with a whistle from the officials that was difficult for the Suns to get a proper feel for made it seem like all of it was going to be insurmountable for them.

Booker scored 19 of his 31 points in the third quarter but after both he and Ayton picked up their fourth fouls early on in the frame, both would get their fifth just before their usual slots in the rotation of checking out for their last rest.

But after Booker checked out with 1:46 left in that third quarter and the Suns down three, the shorthanded bench rallied, getting Phoenix its first lead at 11:14 remaining via one of Landry Shamet’s five triples on the afternoon.

Shamet, JaVale McGee, Torrey Craig and Aaron Holiday all made plays to keep the Suns in the lead until Ayton and Booker returned.

Even then, however, the Suns just couldn’t put the Kings (25-48) away.

It went as far as a ridiculous Booker 19-footer on the baseline to put the Suns up two with eight seconds left being matched by Kings rookie Davion Mitchell at 2.8 seconds on the clock to force overtime.

While Ayton had fouled out and Phoenix (58-14) was missing more key guys, the Kings’ Domantas Sabonis had a knee-to-knee collision with Mikal Bridges in the fourth quarter and did not return to the game. Sacramento was already without star point guard De’Aaron Fox (right hand soreness), and it is not nearly as deep of a team as the Suns, so going down Sabonis too was significant.

The Suns’ third-string center Bismack Biyombo filled in admirably halfway through overtime when McGee also fouled out, and when Booker joined him with 50.9 seconds left and Phoenix up one, there was the unanswerable question of who was going to take the big shot for the Suns with so many guys now unavailable.

The question got bigger once Sacramento’s Damian Jones scored to put Phoenix down one, but following a Suns miss that was deflected out of bounds for a Phoenix possession on the baseline, Williams drew up a beauty. The play created a wide-open corner 3-pointer for Shamet, his fifth 3 to make it 20 points for him.

The Kings’ go-to option left, Harrison Barnes, isolated on Craig only for Craig to play wonderful defense and force a shot that wouldn’t go down. With 15 seconds left and a three-point lead, the Suns triggered their usual free-throw shenanigans by fouling up three and executed to close it out.

Bridges ended up playing a game-high 50 minutes and scored 27 points, playing aggressive downhill basketball with his slashing game when his 3-point shooting wasn’t there in the earlygoing.

Shamet hit one free throw in the closing seconds to tie his season-high of 21 points.

Elfrid Payton got the start in place of Payne and did not play well, shooting 0-of-3 with one point, four rebounds, two assists, three steals, two blocks and three turnovers in 18 minutes. He was a -13 while backup guard Aaron Holiday had nine points, seven assists and was a +13 in 23 minutes.

Craig had another terrific game, following up on his two great starts with six points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals. After starting because of a sore left groin keeping Crowder out, Craig played in crunch time when an apparent right ankle injury suffered in the third quarter kept Crowder on the bench the rest of the game. Williams and the team did not have an update on Crowder.

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