EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Phoenix Suns regress to past issues in loss to Clippers

Jan 8, 2024, 11:06 PM | Updated: Jan 9, 2024, 10:56 am

The Phoenix Suns were slowly tip-toeing forward during a six-game homestand before taking a giant step back the last two days, losing to the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday 138-111.

It followed a bad loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at home the night prior, and how the Suns returned to the same problems over a concerning December in the back-end of Monday’s defeat was a reminder they are not past what was going wrong before a few solid wins.

The Clippers played a great game but the Suns should be long past the game tail-spinning for them the way that it did in the second half.

Phoenix’s biggest problem isn’t schematic or based on the roster. It is that the team is unable to come together and put forth solid stretches of basketball a couple of times over 48 minutes like all good-to-great teams do. Forget playing a good, full 48 minutes. Reaching even 30-36 would be progress right now. Worst of all, Phoenix can sink low and crater over a few costly minutes that will keep swinging contests out of its favor given its inability to be consistently solid in other sections of the game.

That is why Friday’s win over the Miami Heat was so encouraging, because it was the Suns doing that. But it didn’t lead to another performance like that in the next two games.

The first half was a phenomenal offensive showing from the Clippers (23-13), who shot 66.7% from the field on mostly OK defense. Paul George and James Harden knocked down a handful of difficult shots while the playmaking from Harden and Russell Westbrook produced great results.

The two ways to counter that are high-level defense, which Phoenix (19-18) is not capable of even in flashes right now, or matching the shooting display. Kevin Durant scored 20 of his 30 points over those two quarters but no one else on Phoenix really got it going to a similar degree of L.A. and had the Suns down eight.

Los Angeles was eventually going to start missing shots, and over a 2:45 period in the third quarter with Phoenix down 11, the Clippers only produced two points. It was a small but visible window for the Suns to get back in the game. The offense, however, was muddled and was only able to match that output. This group has made strides since getting healthier but isn’t close to turning it on whenever a segment of the game calls for it.

Just a bit later in the third quarter, Suns head coach Frank Vogel went small with Eric Gordon checking in for Jusuf Nurkic. Vogel has tried these types of lineups as a last-ditch effort in crunch time but never this early in the game. It slightly changed the flow of the game, which didn’t help the Suns but affected the Clippers more than anyone. A rout felt on. Instead, the Suns were down just 10 entering the fourth.

The brand of offense Phoenix started tapping into with the small lineup, though, sucked the Suns right back into some bad habits. They reverted to other older issues of hardly using movement and seemingly not running many plays, either. Isolation, matchup hunting and so on are not going to do this team any favors with its state no matter how offensively talented its three best players are. The rough watch the Suns turned into for large spells of December was suddenly present again.

The Suns were extremely disconnected on both ends from that point on. The energy on the floor was gone. It only came down to when the Clippers turned it on enough to put the game away. They extended the lead to 20 with eight minutes left.

Booker was 8-of-14 for 20 points with five assists and six turnovers. Beal was 7-of-15 for 15 points with three rebounds, two assists, two steals and two turnovers. The expectation is for at least one of those guys to be awesome every night. it hasn’t happened enough the last six weeks and should now that Beal is healthy.

Phoenix had 17 assists and 14 turnovers, once again stifled by Los Angeles’ containment strategies on the Big 3.

All five Clippers starters were in double figures. George scored 25 points and Harden added 19 with 10 assists.

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