Shorthanded Suns hang with Kings until dubious 3rd quarter, Fox’s late takeover

Dec 8, 2023, 11:58 PM

Devin Booker...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns drives to the basket against Keon Ellis #23 of the Sacramento Kings during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on December 08, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kelsey Grant/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The undermanned Phoenix Suns hung in there with the Sacramento Kings on Friday until a lopsided third quarter flipped the game at Footprint Center.

Sacramento (12-8) outscored Phoenix 33-12 after trailing by nine at the break, and point guard De’Aaron took control from there, scoring 23 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter to put away the Suns, 114-106.

Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Grayson Allen were all ruled out, and Phoenix’s depth took more hits as Friday’s game wore on. Phoenix (12-10) also lost Nassir Little at the end of the first quarter to be checked for a concussion, while center Jusuf Nurkic missed most of the third quarter after getting hit in the nose.

Devin Booker dropped 28 points with seven assists and seven rebounds, scoring 18 points in the opening half. The Kings came out with different defensive looks in the second half, turning to a box-and-one and traps for Booker, although he felt the Suns created open shots but missed too many in the third, including layups.

The Suns shot 6-for-22 in the quarter and missed all eight 3-point attempts.

“Yeah, that’s when they made their move,” head coach Frank Vogel said. “Credit to them, their coaching staff did a good job mixing coverages throughout the game and we saw three or four different coverages on Booker in the first half, we knew they were going to throw the kitchen sink at him and they did. During that third, we had some possessions where their defense slowed us down, we had some possessions where we had some clean, open looks and we just missed them.”

“I think we missed some good looks,” Booker added. “They did a couple of junk defenses, box-and-one, trapping at half court. We got good looks, we have to take those shots and make them.”

A key moment came when Chimezie Metu missed a transition layup, perhaps anticipating contact, after a steal that would have tied the game. Sacramento’s Malik Monk converted on the other end for the four-point swing, and the Suns never evened the score afterward.

Vogel commended his team’s fight in the fourth quarter, and four-straight possessions ending in 3s cut a 15-point Kings lead to eight.

The Suns got it down to six near the halfway mark of the period, but a costly five-point possession took a lot of air out of the comeback. Nurkic was hit with a “reckless closeout” flagrant 1 on a Fox 3-point attempt. Fox hit two free throws and knocked down a triple on the ensuing possession.

That was the first of two flagrant fouls against Phoenix in the fourth quarter, as Booker was called for the other less than two minutes later on a contest at the rim.

The Suns still didn’t quite go away, but Fox did enough to keep them at arm’s length until they ran out of time.

Vogel mentioned the lack of room for error with so many players out, and Sacramento took nine more shots largely due to 15 offensive rebounds. The Suns kept the turnovers down to 11.

Phoenix has dropped four of the last five games at the quarter mark of the season, each defeat by eight points or fewer. The Suns have been without Beal and either Booker or Durant in four of the last seven contests.

Eric Gordon said it is not time to be discouraged by noting, “this isn’t game 50. … We are going to be fine, just have to continue to grind through. Of course, a lot of injuries and a lot of things happening. We will be fine, our effort was there.”

Booker was asked why he isn’t concerned at this point in the season, and his answer was straightforward, saying he looks at the bench and sees Beal and Durant there.

“I obviously would rather be at full strength, but remembering what we are playing for, trying to learn from wins and losses,” Booker said. “Teams are probably going to try to take out three of us. Other guys are going to have to find spacing and be in the right spots. Here is a good time to step up in those opportunities and build some confidence.”

Friday’s game was set on Tuesday after the Suns and Kings both lost during the NBA In-Season Tournament quarterfinals. It was the first of five meetings between the two squads this season.

Phoenix also started a stretch of 12 out of 15 games at home, and Vogel was hopeful many of those games will be close to or at full strength. Beal (back) was a full participant in practice on Thursday, while Durant (ankle) isn’t expected to miss much time.

The Suns get the rest of the weekend off, as their next game is not until Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors at home.

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Shorthanded Suns hang with Kings until dubious 3rd quarter, Fox’s late takeover