EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns show same bad vibes, do barely enough to beat depleted Clippers

Apr 10, 2024, 10:25 PM | Updated: 10:28 pm

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts as he walks past Kevin Durant #35 during the first half ...

Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns reacts as he walks past Kevin Durant #35 during the first half against the LA Clippers at Crypto.com Arena on April 10, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns were gifted a depleted Los Angeles Clippers squad on Wednesday the night after a terrible loss to L.A. and still only managed to pull away late in a 124-108 victory.

L.A. essentially treated this as a rest day after humiliating the Suns in Phoenix on Tuesday. Paul George, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook were all out with injury designations while Norman Powell and Ivica Zubac were available but did not play, either. Terance Mann only logged eight minutes in the first half and then did not appear the rest of the way.

All of Phoenix’s season-long problems prominently rose to the surface on Tuesday, revealing a group that is clearly disconnected and broken internally. That made the way Wednesday’s game turned unsurprising, especially given the Suns’ woes all year against squads down key players.

And to reinforce this, the Clippers (who have one of the worst rosters in the NBA outside its top seven guys) were missing their seven best players. And the Suns were just without Damion Lee.

A 10-2 start for the Clippers was corrected by Phoenix by the mid-second quarter for a 15-point lead.

Then L.A., led by Bones Hyland and Brandon Boston Jr., went on a 20-4 run to close out the first half ahead by one.

From there, Phoenix couldn’t get out of autopilot let alone stabilize. Its effort in the first quarter was nowhere near 35-4 bad like Tuesday but it bizarrely attempted 20 of its 27 shots from 3-point range, sleepwalking through drive-and-kick scenarios or just chucking up pull-up triples at any opportunity. It was like we were watching a practice drill. Ditto for the defense.

It stank of that energy the rest of the game and it took until 6:30 remaining for Phoenix to get a lead. Another three minutes passed for the Suns to produce five more points and “pull away” to a six-point edge. And that was with Phoenix compiling turnovers, trying its best to give the game away.

Hyland and Boston clearly embraced the opportunity to put up numbers, with Hyland reaching a career high of 30 points early in the third quarter and finishing with 37 while Boston added 23. But both guys ran out of gas and just didn’t have a final push left and Phoenix took the fourth quarter 32-15.

The Suns’ stats are irrelevant.

Head coach Frank Vogel made a change in the starting lineup, sending Grayson Allen to the reserve unit in place of Royce O’Neale. It was the only move left on the board to try to add more physicality and toughness to the opening five. Allen’s recent shooting slump made it an easier move to make in the moment.

Drew Eubanks was also usurped in the backup 5 slot, a change to Thaddeus Young the fanbase has been clamoring for since the buyout signing arrived to the Valley. Young played well and triggered Phoenix’s best offensive flow of the game in that late first quarter and early second quarter.

In the standings, Phoenix (47-33) still has a chance at avoiding the play-in. It needs the New Orleans Pelicans (47-32) currently in the sixth seed to lose a game first and will likely have to win its last two. New Orleans finishes with Sacramento (45-34), Golden State (44-35) and the Lakers (45-35), three teams with something to play for in the same race.

The Suns need to win just one more game to also clinch top-eight. That would have their worst possible loss total be 34, ahead of the teams in the ninth and 10th positions. A win specifically over the Kings on Friday would also guarantee top-seven, since Sacramento would drop to 35 losses even if it won on Thursday in New Orleans.

Empire of the Suns

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