EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns sit 4 starters, nearly rally with franchise-record 48 in 4th vs. Clippers

Apr 6, 2022, 11:03 PM | Updated: Apr 7, 2022, 7:40 am

The Phoenix Suns gave us a reminder of how appreciative we should be of a 63-win team by losing to the Los Angeles Clippers 113-109 Wednesday night in a game they rested four starters for.

Phoenix trailed by 29 in the first half and a point total of 31 was its lowest since Feb. 7, 2018. In that loss against the San Antonio Spurs, the Jay Triano-led Suns started Tyler Ulis, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss.

Remember those times? Be grateful for this Suns team.

And they actually provided another reminder of why in the second half. After the Clippers’ lead ballooned to as much as 39 in the third quarter, a Suns unit led by Aaron Holiday, Iffe Lundberg, Ish Wainright and Bismack Biyombo cut the deficit down to as little as 11 with 4:42 remaining and got even closer in the last minute.

Los Angeles would actually have to knock down a few shots to close out the game, which it did, but the Suns made them earn it despite how poorly the evening went as a whole. Phoenix put up a franchise-record 48 points in the fourth quarter. That was over five times the amount the Suns scored in the second quarter (9).

“It’s a great lesson for our team, any kid watching,” head coach Monty Williams said of the fight the Suns put up. “You just play it out. You never know what can happen. We were down 39 and we’re able to cut it down to single digits and have a chance to possibly tie the game or win it just because we stayed with it and had that Suns grit.”

Two-way wing Ish Wainright led that charge by scoring all of his career-high 20 points in the fourth quarter. He was a staggering +36 across his 25 minutes and added eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

“Somebody said that,” Wainright said of his career-high. “I don’t know who said that in the middle of the game and I was like, ‘What? Alright, OK, whatever. Let’s win this game. Let’s try to win.’ That’s not something I really was thinking about. I was trying to win the game. We was down, what, 30? In my head, I’m like, alright, that’s the greatest comeback in Suns history.”

“He had a great night tonight and was basically the catalyst for us having the juice to get back into the game,” Williams said of Wainright.

The Suns sat Deandre Ayton (right ankle soreness), Devin Booker (low back soreness), Jae Crowder (right ankle soreness) and Chris Paul (right thumb injury management) after beating the Los Angeles Lakers in Phoenix the night before.

With that in mind, the team’s supporting cast is more than capable of hanging around in a game with a team like the Clippers, but it was a rough night offensively for Phoenix while Los Angeles was executing well on both ends.

Believe it or not, it was only a four-point game through one quarter. This was not a case of the losses in Memphis or Oklahoma City, where effort and focus were lacking. The Suns were playing their way while shots weren’t going in, but once Los Angeles got some momentum, the game snowballed tremendously.

The Clippers outscored the Suns 21-0 in the first five minutes of the second quarter, a stretch that included the Suns committing turnovers on four straight possessions Los Angeles capitalized on for points. A 1-of-11 combined shooting start for Cam Payne and Landry Shamet seemed to throw them off their game, even though they remained aggressive.

Los Angeles had 16 points off turnovers in the first half and Paul George was running the offense with precision. The Clippers are stuck at the eighth seed, but with George just having returned from a three-month absence a week ago, there’s some rhythm to establish in this last week of the regular season. They also got back wing Norman Powell on Wednesday from a foot injury for the first time since Feb. 10, and head coach Ty Lue was clearly able to get his guys to lock in and use this batch of games to get ready for the play-in tournament.

To be fair, Phoenix looked the same. Payne and Shamet both stayed on the front foot as ball-handlers, something they struggle with from time to time. It was just not their night. At all.

The game further activated the conversation amongst the fanbase around the Suns’ final roster spot heading into the postseason, one that Wainright has earned serious consideration for. As a two-way player, he would need the Suns to release one of its 15 members under a standard contract in order to make the postseason roster.

Wainright has an appealing skillset as a switchable, strong wing defender and plus athlete. His season-round hard work in the Suns’ practice facility to get better showed against the Clippers.

He knocked down 3s on the move.

And he attacked off the dribble.

 

While Wainright is a 27-year-old rookie, there’s a potential long-term player there and he’s taken advantage of every opportunity he’s got since coming to Phoenix, with the latest example coming on Wednesday.

Elfrid Payton is the other player mentioned in that discussion and he did not play well in 12 minutes, shooting 1-of-7. He has continued to get the nod ahead of Aaron Holiday, which has been the case over the last two weeks, after Holiday initially took that spot when he arrived at the trade deadline and had effective minutes in that role.

Holiday, to his credit, was great on Wednesday, too. He had 16 points, six rebounds and seven assists in 18 minutes and was +30.

Biyombo produced 14 points and 12 rebounds as a part of that comeback attempt and Lundberg picked up his first-career NBA bucket, the first points ever scored in the league by a native of Denmark. The Dane also dished out with five assists.

Phoenix ends the regular season by staying on the road to play in Utah on Friday and at home Sunday against the Sacramento Kings.

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