EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns handled, outworked emphatically by Memphis Grizzlies

Dec 23, 2022, 11:52 PM | Updated: Dec 24, 2022, 12:14 am

PHOENIX — While injuries and the absence of Devin Booker (right groin soreness) for the third straight game hasn’t helped the Phoenix Suns through a poor December, they just don’t outwork the opponent consistently right now.

“It’s pretty obvious,” head coach Monty Williams said of the Suns getting outworked. “We can’t show up and play at the normal NBA level. That’s not what we’ve been known for. We’ve been a team that’s had five guys out there flying around and it feels like there’s eight guys out there because we’re just playing with pace, playing with force.”

That and playing with force is the core of the Memphis Grizzlies’ DNA. Both stylistically and statistically, this is the case. The Suns knew that coming in. And that they were on national TV.

It didn’t matter in a 125-100 loss.

“Our edge in these games, whether it’s Boston, Memphis, these teams who are big and physical and want to put their hands on us — we don’t have the pregame edge that we’ve had around here,” Williams said. “We’ve gotta get back to chasing something. And right now I feel like the prey, and I don’t like that feeling.”

A 39-20 first quarter was a good ol’ you-know-what whooping.

The Grizzlies lead the league in points in the paint per game at 57.9 and they had an astonishing 26 across the 12 minutes. They are tied for second in offensive rebounds per game (12.9) and snagged seven for 10 second-chance points. By the early second quarter they reached 14, nearly hitting their season average of 16.4 that ranks fifth.

“They hit us first,” Suns point guard Chris Paul said. “Came out, jumped on us early. We never recovered.”

Phoenix was down 15 already just a little over six minutes into the game and trailed by as many as 28 in the first half. The Suns couldn’t get any closer in the second half than 15 and the deficit even got as high as 34.

“Just an awareness of how teams are coming in here,” Williams said. “For me, that’s what it looks like. I felt the same way after the Boston game. Tonight I felt like they came in here with a playoff mentality and we gotta understand that. Teams are, for whatever reason, looking at us as a team that they can be more physical with and try to set that tone from the jump.”

This was one of those “it could have been much worse” games. Memphis didn’t shoot it well from 3 (30.4%) and its star backcourt of Ja Morant (12 points) and Desmond Bane (17) combined to shoot 8-for-27.

The Grizzlies just kept freaking working. Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson Jr. each had 24 points to lead the way.

The team ended up with 72 points in the paint, 19 offensive rebounds and 22 second-chance points. Phoenix was outrebounded 53-35 and not one Suns player had more than five.

The Suns’ point total by quarter in the first half was 20 and 18.

Phoenix’s offensive rating without Booker on the court entering Friday was 107.8, a number that would place the Suns 29th in the league leaderboards, per NBA stats. This is nothing new. Last year it was 107.5 and the year prior it sat at 109.6.

It was part of Booker’s MVP case last year. Given the significant downticks this year in the Suns’ defense and the play of Paul, it makes the Suns a bad team when he’s out.

They can skate by on not filling out the margins perfectly when Booker plays. A lack of urgency, though, in that part of basketball is unacceptable when he’s out. That is where they need to go above and beyond.

The Grizzlies nearly always do. And as we covered, dismantled them in these areas to put the Suns offense in a rough spot mostly against a set defense all evening.

No one on the Phoenix side had a good game. Deandre Ayton was the leading scorer with 18 points and Landry Shamet added 15 in his second start of the season.

The Suns have lost seven of their last 10 games and enter the toughest part of their schedule. It unofficially got underway two weeks ago but Phoenix now heads to Denver for the beginning of a six-game road trip, comes back for a quick two games and then travels for four more.

By then it’ll be Jan. 19, and I have a feeling we’ll know a whole lot more about this team by then in terms of what parts of them (both good and bad) are real.

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