Phoenix Suns lose cool again, drop 3rd straight vs. Kings

Mar 24, 2023, 10:08 PM | Updated: 10:12 pm

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns dribbling the ball get fouled by De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacrament...

Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns dribbling the ball get fouled by De'Aaron Fox #5 of the Sacramento Kings during the third quarter at Golden 1 Center on March 24, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

No matter how well they play at the moment, the Phoenix Suns seemingly can’t avoid losing control of a game at some point in the second half.

After an awesome first half in Sacramento against the Kings on Friday, a 24-3 Kings run sprouted out of Phoenix’s inexcusable frustration and was at the root of a 135-127 loss.

It is the seventh straight game, six of which have been losses, that have some type of momentum-shifting surge sacrificed by the Suns. This one followed many headlines about the officiating and Phoenix’s recent free-throw woes on both ends, including a fine for head coach Monty Williams when he said the whistle in Friday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers was not fair.

Once the calls in the third quarter began not going the Suns’ way, they let it get to them and let their opponents know it was getting to them.

Guard Devin Booker spent the start of one possession walking up the court with an official to protest a call. Two minutes later, he was hacked on a drive and didn’t receive the call, so he went back up the court and unnecessarily fouled Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis to make sure the whistles were still working.

They were, granting him a foul for that action and then a technical foul as well. At that point, it was 74-65 Suns.

A Kings layup off a backdoor cut was an easy 2 for them after the free 1 for the technical foul. The Suns missed two free throws on their trip and Torrey Craig disagreed with a loose ball foul he got fighting for a rebound. Kings guard De’Aaron Fox then drove down an open baseline for another bucket.

The Suns’ turn was a Chris Paul turnover, and he earned a take foul during his transition defense effort. His displeasure with that resulted in a technical foul.

Those points were only responsible for a 7-0 portion of the 24-3 Kings explosion but indicated the collapse was coming. Phoenix’s offensive rhythm after shooting 57% in the first half while assisting 21 baskets and committing just four turnovers disappeared.

Three minutes later, that run was finalized and the Suns were down 10, chasing a game once more it had absolutely no business being in that position for with only themselves to blame.

It has to be said that the epic tailspin was a direct byproduct of the actions of its two on-court leaders, Booker and Paul. It was baffling to watch them lose themselves in the officiating that quickly in Sacramento of all places, an incredible homecourt advantage for the NBA’s No. 1 offensive team. Those technical fouls got a mostly hushed crowd back in the game on their own.

There were Suns players in the moment sensing the direction things were headed and were visually trying to calm everyone down, but it was the likes of Josh Okogie and Landry Shamet.

The foolishness inside of the 24-3 meltdown was it occurred as soon as things started going wrong with the calls. Sacramento only had four free throws in the first half and Phoenix was doing an excellent job of not fouling. It was a minute into the third quarter when Booker spent nearly 20 seconds of live action speaking with an official as Paul was in the process of getting the ball up the court.

This level of a breakdown has only happened a time or two with either Booker or Paul in Phoenix, like Game 3 in the first round of the 2021 playoffs against the Lakers for Booker. There has to be some looking in the mirror done by them after that (and I expect they’ll sort it out).

Sacramento scored 45 points in the third quarter, and despite some phenomenal offensive basketball from the Suns after the wheels fell off, they simply could not execute defensively to get enough stops. Even when Phoenix got it within four at under two minutes to go and Fox — the NBA’s best clutch scorer this season — had to exit because of a sore hamstring, this remained the case.

There were many reasons why this was a terrible loss for Phoenix and high atop the list will be wasting a tremendous effort from its bench while still without Deandre Ayton (right hip contusion) and Kevin Durant (left ankle sprain). Terrence Ross scored 30 points, Jock Landale added 17 and T.J. Warren had his best outing since coming back to the Valley with 15.

Booker contributed 32 points.

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