EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Suns struggle again to get up for post-clinch matchup, lose to Thunder
We spent all season looking for a weakness in a Phoenix Suns team that doesn’t really have one.
It took until game No. 78 to locate it, one that won’t matter in the postseason: Playing in games both they and their opposition have nothing to play for in.
Because, in reality, all teams the Suns face do have something to play for since they are playing against the best team in the world and can always be motivated by that.
You could argue the Suns’ franchise record for wins (63) being one win away is something to play for, but come on, they’ve still got a few games left to get that. It should feel like a done deal already and a foregone conclusion, just like it does for all of us.
The tanking and now 23-55 Oklahoma City Thunder, sitting nine key players, played with energy like they always do and that was enough to give the Suns their worst loss of the season, a 117-96 defeat.
“The level of intensity and competitive edge just was not there tonight,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “And that’s never happened to us two games in a row. That’s one of the things that’s concerning for me.”
That line on the two games in a row from Williams was what he said was the only thing he told his players after the game.
In a game on Sunday the Suns (62-16) rested Deandre Ayton, Devin Booker and Jae Crowder, they played uninspired basketball on both ends of the floor.
While the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday beat Phoenix by crashing the offensive glass and forcing turnovers, the Thunder did it with hot shooting.
Oklahoma City shot 17-of-41 (41.5%) from 3-point range after entering Sunday’s action ranked dead last in 3-point percentage, 32.3%. With Phoenix at a putrid 7-for-38 (18.4%), it meant the Thunder were eventually going to pull away unless the Suns found their signature brand of intensity.
That was nowhere to be found.
“Usually, we impose our will on defense and we didn’t,” Suns guard Chris Paul said. “So you gotta give them a lot of credit. They moved the ball, shot the ball extremely well and they beat us.”
Phoenix (62-16) led for the entire first half before a 65-43 second half for the Thunder saw Oklahoma City blow the Suns out.
The Thunder had seven players score in double figures: Isaiah Roby (11 points), Aleksej Pokusevski (17), Aaron Wiggins (17), Vit Krejci (11), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (14), Lindy Waters III (10) and Olivier Sarr (24).
They were without Darius Baszley (knee), Luguentz Dort (shoulder), Derrick Favors (back), Josh Giddey (hip), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (ankle), Ty Jerome (sports hernia), Tre Mann (hamstring), Mike Muscala (ankle) and Kenrich Williams (knee).
Paul had 11 points and nine assists on 5-of-11 shooting. Mikal Bridges added 18 points while Cam Johnson had his second straight tough game since returning after a 13-game absence. Johnson was 4-of-15 from the field and 2-for-11 at 3-point range.
Should the alarm bells be ringing heading into the postseason? Of course not.
The Suns haven’t had a stretch like this all season, even the 1-3 start.
That is a reason why some will choose to feel concerned but the bottom line is that every team has at least one little funk like this.
Phoenix’s comes when it needs to figure out how to still play its way with four regular season games while clearly already getting mentally ready for a long postseason run.
The Suns’ next game on Tuesday hosting a Los Angeles Lakers team fighting for their play-in lives will serve as a good jolt.