EMPIRE OF THE SUNS
Phoenix Suns slip up with disconnected play in loss to Kings
PHOENIX — A high-level game miraculously emerged from a slog on Saturday night between the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings.
An awesome second half stayed tight throughout and ultimately came down to who made the most winning plays in the closing stages. There wasn’t much of a difference until the last three minutes when the Kings pulled away and beat the Suns 128-119.
Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis scored on back-to-back possessions in a tied game to put his team up four with 2:25 to go. Phoenix’s two looks were a tough isolation 3 for Devin Booker without much movement and a 3 by Terrence Ross that was blocked.
That began a maddening sequence that included a tremendous defensive stop and steal by the Kings’ De’Aaron Fox, only for it to end in a turnover and a Suns and-1 basket to have it back down to a one-point game.
Fox, however, came down and scored on a jumper, something Phoenix wanted to prevent given Fox’s top-of-the-league prowess in the clutch this year. Booker’s next attempt was an offensive foul after he made contact with Sabonis’ eye on a drive, a call reviewed and upheld.
The Kings’ next possession saw extra attention Fox’s way force him off the ball, and reserve wing Kessler Edwards drilled a dagger 3 for their 63rd, 64th and 65th bench points to put them up six with 45 seconds remaining.
All of this, however, is an easy conclusion to come to about what mattered on Saturday. Layered within the game was Phoenix’s uncharacteristic amount of mistakes defensively. That made it an uphill battle for the Suns all night against the best offensive team in the league, a buffer Sacramento just isn’t going to lose many games with.
“They’re a really good team. Offensively, they score with the best of ’em. But we had so many ‘my bads’ and blown coverages tonight,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “It just stacked against us.”
Phoenix’s 17-6 start to the game had some real oomph to it. The motivation for that was unclear but there was some extra intensity to its play.
But as the whistles started blowing (or not blowing), the Suns got more and more frustrated through the first quarter. They still led by one at the end of it but that tone setting was gone.
Williams did not like how his team handled its emotions.
“I didn’t think we were even close today. Not even close,” he said of the required emotional stability. “I thought the officials, the calls not going our way, took us out of pocket. And then there were times where a guy hit a tough shot or a guy scored and we just didn’t have the emotional stamina to just hang in there.”
Sacramento’s bench came in and was tremendous, scoring 37 points a little over 18 minutes into the game and playing a part in its 21-of-26 mark at the foul line for the first half. At a certain point, the Suns were just committing bad fouls the majority of the time after that wasn’t as much of the case in the first eight minutes or so.
They did not do a good job adjusting, but the transition from that type of effort to start and trying to maintain it through the physicality drawing whistles is tough as well. And, of course, credit to the Kings for playing downhill and embracing contact. That should be at the top of the list of all the variables.
Mixed into that were a few Kings baskets that came off a Suns make with just a few seconds off the shot clock. Phoenix never allows that to happen and knew coming in Sacramento would look for it. Williams described the transition defense as “really poor” to begin the game. Typically, as Williams put it, the Suns have four guys back. On some possessions, it was just one with two guys trailing.
This all emphasizes how much of a team game this was overall, a rarity in a NBA fixture given how much star power there is everywhere. Eleven players scored in double figures and Booker’s 28 points made him the game’s high scorer. Sacramento didn’t even have anyone break 20 despite amounting to 128.
Phoenix’s edge in assists 30-19 backed up how it felt like it had the better offensive process on Saturday. There were just a few too many freebies tossed the Kings’ way, including the -13 point differential at the foul line.