EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Phoenix Suns slip up with surprising loss to undermanned Grizzlies
I am not one for grand proclamations to slather in concrete. But every now and then I’ll dabble, and I felt confident in saying the Phoenix Suns were going to emphatically beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
Memphis was going to be without Steven Adams, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyus Jones and Ja Morant, with the first four absences coming down more to the Grizzlies resting guys with the No. 2 seed wrapped up.
Phoenix, meanwhile, was getting Cam Johnson and JaVale McGee back in the lineup. And the last time the Suns played the Grizzlies, they lost on a last-second bucket by Morant in Phoenix.
We know how much this team uses that as motivation and it was the first time in nearly three months the Suns had their starters healthy with Cam Payne and Johnson available off the bench. On top of that, it would be win No. 63 to break the franchise record.
So, it was rather surprising to see a flat, dud of a performance in Memphis for a 122-114 loss.
“They outplayed us,” head coach Monty Williams said. “That was the key to the game. Their approach and our approach was two totally different zip codes tonight. … We gave up a 68-point second half. You don’t even need to go any further than that. That was unbelievably poor defense and not the type of approach we would expect.”
Before we get into it, the context was what was surprising. The Suns are not immune to these types of losses you just “flush” and by my count, this is only the fifth this year. But it was also not something along the lines of an inevitable poor shooting night to end a nine-game winning streak or whathaveyou.
“You can say, ‘Well you were due.’ We weren’t due for that,” Williams said. “If you lose a game, you lose a game, but when you get hit on the chin like we did tonight that was a bit unexpected. Now, it happens, but we didn’t expect that tonight, especially after the way we played in Golden State the other day.”
The eye test told all when it came to the lack of the usual high-end mental focus the Suns play with, and the box score backed it up as well.
Memphis dominated the Suns in second-chance points 30-2 and also held a 24-7 edge in points off turnovers. The Grizzlies deserve a ton of credit for that. They are an excellent basketball team and proved how great their infrastructure is by the supporting cast stepping up without their three best players, starting center and backup point guard.
That was a 54-9 disadvantage Williams himself cited after the game, and this was a problem all game.
Phoenix had just nine assists to nine turnovers through two quarters, making it only the second first half this season it had an even or worse assist-to-turnover ratio. On top of that, the Grizzlies were up 20-0 in second-chance points.
The Suns trailed by as many as 16 points in the first quarter before somehow working the deficit down to four at halftime. Again, the Suns had all their core nine guys playing, so a dramatic talent disparity can allow that to happen.
Phoenix (62-15) proceeded to have seven assists and just one turnover to start the second half to eventually take its first lead of the game but never got up by more than a possession. From there, the Suns couldn’t stabilize, recording only two assists to six turnovers from the late third quarter until the mid-fourth quarter.
During that stretch was a 13-0 Grizzlies run across four minutes that the Suns committed three turnovers during.
The Suns, down 14 with six minutes left, were unable to get their defense in the right spot to support a comeback. It was one of those runs where the amount of time left required nearly every shot to get down and that didn’t happen.
Devin Booker scored 19 of his 41 points across those six minutes when Phoenix was chasing the game, and he made Memphis (55-23) sweat it out, cutting its lead down to five with 56 seconds left before Dillon Brooks’ and-one lay-in 23 seconds later sealed the deal.
Phoenix wound up at 27 assists but that did not fairly represent the day it had as passers and shotmakers.
Johnson had a rough go in his first game since March 4, missing all five of his shot attempts with three turnovers.
Deandre Ayton’s played a few games now lately where his hands are not good and his touch is off around the rim. We’ve seen these spurts in the past. He finished with eight points and 12 rebounds.
Mikal Bridges (18 points) and Cam Payne (11 points) were the only other Suns in double figures besides Booker.
Memphis, as usual, was balanced with seven players reaching double digits, including Brooks’ 30. It wound up with 16 offensive rebounds grabbed by eight different players and none of them had more than four.
A loss like this could be called a “wake-up call” of sorts for the Suns but I am of the opinion they weren’t even in need of one.
“Can’t dwell on it,” Bridges said. “Won 60 games. Fifteen Ls. We’ll be OK. Well needed, just get back to it. We got another game.