EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns lacking in execution during loss to 76ers

Nov 4, 2023, 1:17 PM | Updated: 2:33 pm

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a lay up between Grayson Allen #8 and Jusuf Nurkic...

Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots a lay up between Grayson Allen #8 and Jusuf Nurkic #20 of the Phoenix Suns during the first quarter at the Wells Fargo Center on November 04, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

There were always going to be growing pains for the Phoenix Suns to begin the season, and starting off with injuries to the Big 3 have increased them.

Phoenix still has yet to have Bradley Beal (low back spasms) play in the regular season and Devin Booker (left ankle) was out again on Saturday in a 112-100 loss on the road to the Philadelphia 76ers. It is the third straight loss for the Suns, who are now 2-4.

In an early afternoon start on the east coast after playing on Thursday night in the Valley, Booker’s return after a three-game absence resulted in that quick turnaround sidelining him. Without their leader on offense, Phoenix’s offense struggled mightily.

The Suns shot 36% in the game and were 9-of-35 (25.7%) from 3. The inefficiency included misses in bunches on wide-open perimeter looks and attempts at the rim. Phoenix also strangely goofed up several transition opportunities with a man advantage or two, not coming away with points on over a half-dozen trips like that when any NBA team almost always does. Some of those were bunnies/layups not going in, which is an absolute no-no when this shorthanded.

That summed up the theme of the game, which was Phoenix’s strong lack of consistency in execution keeping it from winning a game off of a strong return to form defensively. Kelly Oubre Jr. was the only Sixer to have it going in the first half thanks to some solid defense in over-helping to contain opportunities for Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, who were also failing to convert on good opportunities when they came.

But there were also a few too many possessions when Philadelphia got a free bucket off bad transition defense or a lack of awareness on a set play, which was part of what was too much to overcome.

The Suns felt like a team that should be down 15-plus but managed to stick within two scores for most of the first half before quickly going down 14 in the mid-third quarter. Phoenix, however, kept playing hard and the Sixers were in enough of an afternoon lull to allow it to cut the deficit down to two prior to the start of the fourth quarter.

But then a few botched plays here and there in the final frame allowed Philly to pull away by that expected advantage of 15-plus to not make it much of a game in the end.

Execution to open the season was always going to be a challenge for the Suns, not only with largely a new roster but a new system as well. When you’re down two of your best three players in the NBA, you aren’t going to win much without being sharp, even if you play as hard as the Suns did on Saturday.

Kevin Durant did his best to carry the offense, finishing with 31 points, eight rebounds, three assists, a steal, two blocks and five turnovers on 9-for-20 shooting. The next-highest scorer, however, was Eric Gordon with 13 points.

After Keita Bates-Diop played well in Thursday’s loss and San Antonio aggressively over-helped off Josh Okogie, Suns head coach Frank Vogel made that swap in the starting lineup. Neither contributed much outside of good defensive play. Bates-Diop played 24 minutes while Okogie got 26.

Embiid worked his way up to 26 points and 11 rebounds after a slow first half. Ditto for Maxey with his 22 points and 10 assists, while Oubre was terrific with 25 points.

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