EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns’ offense stifled by Philadelphia 76ers’ defense in loss

Nov 7, 2022, 8:59 PM | Updated: 9:17 pm
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns goes to the basket against Tyrese Maxey #0 and De'Anthony Melto...
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns goes to the basket against Tyrese Maxey #0 and De'Anthony Melton #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers in the first half at the Wells Fargo Center on November 7, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns’ immediate challenge without Cam Johnson (meniscus tear) is on offense, and even before Chris Paul (right heel soreness) exited the game at halftime, it was put to the test a whole lot in a 100-88 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday.

The 88 points for the Suns is the least they’ve scored in the regular season since April 2021, dating back two seasons. Their 19 assists was a mark Phoenix failed to eclipse just three times last year and a 6-of-19 mark from 3-point range would have tied the season low last year of six triples. All three of those statistics were season lows for this year.

Phoenix’s offense looked uncomfortable the majority of the night, and most of that had to do with the effort from Philadelphia’s defense to create that feeling.

The 76ers were selling out on dribble penetration often and hedging extra defenders to muck up the Suns’ real estate in the midrange areas where a lot of their off-ball motion lives to really kick off a possession. Phoenix wasn’t generating 3s, free throws or shots at the rim to counter this.

Devin Booker was trying his best as the only guy on the team attempting to put the opposing defense on its back feet consistently but he was getting bottled up.

More importantly, the Suns (7-3) didn’t generate enough consecutive stops on the other end. Nights like Monday are why it is long documented with them how much the transition of good defense to good offense can help restore their flow.

There was none of that in a first half the Suns trailed by as many as 19 during.

Without Paul in the second half, it’s like we were transported back to five years ago, watching Booker single-handedly bring the Suns back into a game in the third quarter.

Booker scored 14 of his 28 points and took four separate trips to the foul line, asserting his will on dribble drives in an effort that really bogged the game down in the Suns’ favor. Phoenix’s defense started to click some things together and held the 76ers (5-6) to a combined 42 points in the middle quarters.

That had the Suns within five, and despite Booker playing the entire second half, they didn’t have the mental stamina to play at a high level for long enough stretches to win the game.

Their defense in the fourth quarter regressed, continuing to leave Philadelphia shooter Georges Niang open and letting him burn them en route to seven 3-pointers for all 21 of his points.

On the other end, Booker needed someone else to help him and no one else was capable.

Center Deandre Ayton spent his time off the floor during the second half in the locker room after it looked like he tweaked his left ankle. He returned but missed a few bunnies around the rim and ended up at 14 points and seven rebounds in 31 minutes.

Wing Mikal Bridges was largely invisible in his offensive role, something that just can’t happen while Johnson recovers and when Paul is either ineffective or injured. Bridges wound up getting to 15 points after scoring six of them in the last three minutes when the game was out of reach.

Booker managed an, considering how much he had to carry the offense, efficient 8-of-16 from the field with an 11-for-14 rate at the foul line. He dished out five assists with six turnovers. Booker played the entire second half and 43 total minutes while Bridges topped him with 44 minutes. It does not look like extreme minute totals are off the menu this regular season for either of them.

Landry Shamet was scoreless in 11 minutes while Cam Payne added 14 points off the bench and Damion Lee provided 11, plus five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Lee has a case as the Suns’ best reserve through 10 games.

The 76ers were without James Harden (foot) and got a game-high 33 points from a returning Joel Embiid, who was a perfect 16-for-16 on free throws.

The Paul injury appeared to occur when Paul was navigating around a screen midway through the second quarter.

After the game, Paul told AZCentral’s Duane Rankin that he could have played through the injury and confirmed it was about being cautious. Paul said he’s not that worried about it. Monday was Game 1 of a four-game road trip that has Phoenix playing on Wednesday, Friday and then a week from Monday.

Paul missing any games would be a tall task for the Suns to face in the regular season, when it’s time to start having the mindset of how injuries could affect the team’s positioning in the standings. Yes, Payne has been good to start the year, but there is no depth behind him in the rotation.

Second-year guard and two-way contract signing Duane Washington Jr. had some impressive moments in the preseason but he admitted this year is the start of him learning the point guard position. If Paul needs time, Shamet will likely command more of an on-ball role and that means more minutes for Lee — he played 26 Monday night — and a rotation spot for Josh Okogie.

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