The Suns looked to be in control late in Sacramento against the Kings, holding a 104-97 lead with only three minutes left. So how the heck did they lose? Let's find out.
Ed. Note: We know the Suns already played a second game against Sac, but the real breakdown was in Cali on Tuesday night after holding a late lead. Let's focus on that for a moment here.
At the 3:35 mark of Tuesday's game against the Sacramento Kings, Suns fans had to be feeling good. Gerald Green had just drilled a 3-pointer to put the Suns up 104-97 and it looked like Phoenix was in control.
Unfortunately, what followed was a complete and total disaster, as the Suns did not score a single point in the last three minutes and change. Not one. The Kings by no means played well down the stretch either, and gave the Suns every opportunity to win this game, but in the end the Kings hit shots and the Suns didn't. Your final score was 107-104.
Let's take a closer look at what exactly went wrong.
First of all, following Green's 3-pointer, Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas (more on him later) took it the the rack and drew a foul. He hit both free throws and cut the lead to 104-99 with just under three minutes remaining.
The ensuing Suns possession was a bit of a mess. Isaiah Thomas didn't even let Goran Dragic get over halfcourt before he started pressuring him.
Thomas is 5-foot-9 and is a very good athlete, and he was able to get up under the bigger Dragic and bother him. This is something that you'll see a lot in the next several screen caps.
Phoenix tries to run the pick-and-roll with Miles Plumlee a couple times, but Thomas goes under the screen and Dragic doesn't do anything with the ball.
With Dragic still holding the ball at the top of the key, Thomas steps out and gets in his face again. Plumlee comes up to set the screen again...
And this time he makes solid contact and springs Dragic.
Dragic came off the screen with Thomas trailing him, but DeMarcus Cousins is in help position. Instead of driving right where he had more room to work with, Dragic went back to his dominant left hand and had the ball knocked free by Cousins.
Turnover. The ball never left Dragic's hands and Plumlee was the only other player that even moved. That's not what you want to see on offense.
The Kings didn't score on that break as Gerald Green hustled back and knocked the ball out of bounds, but they still scored on the possession as Cousins bullied Plumlee in the post for an and-one finish (Plumlee on Cousins is not a good match-up for the Suns).
The Suns' lead is now at 104-102 with 2:22 remaining.
The Suns' next play shows how much the Suns missed Eric Bledsoe, who sat out the game with a bruised shin. Why you ask? Well, because Ishmael Smith was in the game in crunch time.
Smith brought the ball up but quickly got it into the hands of Dragic. Notice that Thomas is right in his face again.
Thomas backs off as Channing Frye comes up to set a ball screen.
So far away from the basket, and with Thomas dropping back, Frye wasn't able to get a solid screen set and Thomas got around it. Dragic drove hard anyway, though.
Dragic actually had a couple options as he collapsed the defense with his penetration. Frye is near the top of the key and Plumlee is under the basket. But Dragic chose to make the most simple and probably the correct pass by kicking it out to the corner. Unfortunately, Smith was the guy standing there. He was wide open and Dragic hit him with a good pass, but he missed anyway. However, a long shot means a long rebound often enough.
Frye had the ball bounce off hard and go right to him for the offensive board and a new shot clock. However, instead of kicking it back out, he tries to go up with it himself.
If you look at the screen cap above, you'll notice that I counted how many defenders had at least a foot in the paint around Frye: all five of them, including Cousins who is right on him. Frye tries to shoot over Cousins and has it blocked. Kings ball, under two minutes to go.
The Suns caught a break, however, as Isaiah Thomas picks up his dribble 30 feet from the basket and has his pass deflected and stolen by Smith.
The game started to look more like hot potato than basketball as the Suns gave it right back on the next possession. After Dragic drew a blocking foul on Thomas off the ball, the Suns came back and tried to run a pick-and-roll with Plumlee. Plumlee rolls but doesn't get the ball and then never leaves the paint, resulting in a three second violation. Kings' ball again.
The Suns get the ball back yet again when Cousins throws Plumlee out of his way and is called for an offensive foul.
Phoenix runs a standard play, with Dragic passing off to the wing and down screening for Marcus Morris. Mook pops to the top of the key, gets the ball, doesn't have a look and passes off to the other wing.
Morris clears out and Dragic runs up to take his place, only Dragic plants and back-cuts on Thomas.
Green hits him with the pass and Dragic elevates off of the catch. Unfortunately, Patrick Patterson is in good help position for the Kings and McLemore, Cousins and Thomas all collapse on him as well.
Dragic gets himself stuck in the air and attempts to find Morris in the corner with a wrap-around pass ... that unfortunately ends up in the second row. This was a good play by Phoenix but even better defense by Sacramento. Dragic's mistake was deciding to go all the way before he even caught the ball.
The Kings finally make Phoenix pay for the turnovers on the next play, as Travis Outlaw connects and ties the game at 104-104 with 40 seconds left.
On the next play, the ball is in Smith's hands for whatever reason, and he loses his dribble then complicates the mistake by fouling Thomas, who picked up the loose ball. two free throws later and the Suns are down 106-104 with 30 seconds left. Miss you Eric.
The Suns come right back with yet another Dragic Plumlee pick-and-roll. Thomas' pressure defense disrupts the Suns again, but they're finally able to get a good pick-and-roll set up.
Thomas goes over while Cousins steps up to trap Dragic. Dragic spins back to his left, looking to make a pass.
Plumlee was open on the role, but Dragic's pivot gave Cousins enough time to drop back down and snatch the pass out of the air. Had Dragic been able to make the pass without the backwards pivot or had he lobbed it towards the basket, Plumlee probably scores. Instead, he uses a bullet pass and the Kings are off to the races.
The Suns catch another break, though, as Cousins races off by himself and dribbles right into a Phoenix trap for a turnover. The Suns have a shot for the tie.
Dragic gets the ball and Markieff Morris sets a screen. Dragic is aggressive off the screen and forces Travis Outlaw to switch onto him. Dragic looks to have half a step on Outlaw ...
But Cousins is waiting for him at the rim.
Dragic stops, pivots back and puts up a tough fadeaway that doesn't go. He really didn't have many option on this play as Sacramento played pretty good defense and all the other Suns stood and watched.
The Suns get one more chance though as the rebound goes out of bounds off the Kings with 5.9 left on the clock.
Jeff Horncek draws up an interesting play. He has Dragic and Plumlee around halfcourt, while Green and Keef Morris set up on the low block. Mook Morris takes it out.
Keef sets a screen for Green, who cuts across the paint.
Keef seals his man and Mook tosses it over the top to him, then runs on the court and takes a hand-off from his twin.
Mook is wide open in the corner when he takes the hand-off, but for whatever reason hesitates and pump-fakes, giving his defender time to get around Keef, and THEN he fires. Brick.
Hornacek actually drew up a play that worked. Mook just choked. Had he fired right away it would have been an open look. Heck, he had time and space to dribble to his left for a closer shot or a drive. But instead he froze.
The Suns had one last chance after Cousins splits a pair of free throws to put his team up 107-104, but Green's shot from beyond halfcourt bounces harmlessly off the backboard.
Game over. 3:35 of scoreless Phoenix Suns basketball.
The Suns really missed Eric Bledsoe in this game. Smith never would have seen the court had Bledsoe been healthy, and Dragic might not have felt he had to press so much had he had his backcourt partner out there with him.
The Suns played horribly down the stretch, but the Kings deserve credit as well. The Kings big men were in good help position on almost every play and Isaiah Thomas' pressure defense on Goran Dragic, the Suns' only real ball-handler, really disrupted Phoenix's offense.
Bottom line: the Suns need a healthy DragonBlade if they are going to win. Having only one of those guys on the court just isn't enough.
After taking a 104-97 lead with 3 minutes to go last night, the Suns were outscored 10-0 in that game and then got pasted in Phoenix tonight. It wasn't even close, which was a first for the Suns this season. Only a late rush of threes by the Suns gave this game any life at all.
Coming into their 11th game, the Phoenix Suns were one of only two teams in the league NOT to lose any games by more than double-digits points yet.
And they still haven't, losing 113-106. So, that's something.
28 other teams had been pasted by 10+ at least one time already, but the Suns and HEAT. At halftime of the Suns most lackluster effort of the season, it occurred to me that this Suns team looked a lot like the 2012-13 Suns. Lots of midrange jumpers, lots of bail-out shots at the end of the clock. And a disengaged set of players.
Into the fourth quarter, the stagnant nature of the game permeated. When Travis Outlaw scored five point in two possessions, it felt like the kill shot. It was an 18 point lead with about 8 minutes left.
But then Sacramento took their foot off the gas and the Suns suddenly found themselves in the game. The Suns cut the lead to seven and then to six at one point on hero-ball threes.
But it's hard to have a comeback if you're allowing scores to the other team every time down. The Kings started getting into the lane with regularity, forcing foul calls at the end of shot clocks time after time after time. Cousins. Thomas. Vasquez.
And then it was over. The Kings were into free throws for the rest of the game. Vasquez made 9 straight at one point, with Isaiah Thomas sprinkling in two of his own.
While the Suns wilted a night before, the Kings played like seasoned veterans - getting free throws and easy shots any time they wanted.
The Phoenix Suns came out fast and furious to the Kings sluggish pace, with Goran Dragic getting 11 points in the first 4.5 minutes, outscoring the Kings by 3.
But then the Kings turned it one by hustling on the boards, turning several offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points to keep the game tied at 27-all after one.
The second quarter was not the Suns friend. Led by two rookies, two Morrii and an Ish, the Suns got rolled early in the second, allowing an 8-point Kings lead in the first three minutes. The Suns tried to fight back a few times, getting within three points a couple of times, but the Kings were just playing too well.
This was a 2-7 Kings team going nowhere fast before they encountered a back-to-back against the Suns.
Gerald Green was on fire for the Suns, becoming their only offensive weapon for a while in the second. He had 20 points in the first half alone on decisive jumpers, including 5 of 6 three-pointers.
This time it's the Suns' turn to be down at halftime at home, but thankfully only by 5 behind Green's onslaught of jumpers. Green and Dragic had 33 of the Suns' 50 first-half points.
Archie Goodwin played hard, but was 0-6 in the first half.
Despite what it looked like, the Suns had just as many offensive rebounds in the first half (8) as the Kings. Yet, the Kings created 15 second-chance points on those 8 boards, while the Suns only got 6. Effort.
At the start of the second half, the Kings came out just as focused while the Suns skated along on slow cuts, screens and passes. Things went from bad to worse. After getting outscored by 30 in one stretch against the Nets last Friday, the Suns came out flat in the third quarter again on Wednesday night at home.
These kinds of efforts don't endear you to a fanbase.
It was a 13-point deficit in the third pretty quick, as the Suns scored only 5 points in 9+ minutes against 7 turnovers. I mean, you can't even point out the field goal to turnovers ratio. Or the field goal ATTEMPTS to turnovers ratio. It was the total points to turnovers... oy.
The worst play of the third quarter was Marcus Morris trying to throw the lob from the 3-point line to his brother, who was being fronted under the basket. Marcus apparently thought it was someone else under the basket. When has Markieff jumped from a standstill off two feet even to the rim, let alone when being bodied up? What was Marcus thinking?
Anyway, as you might guess, the ball went untouched out of bounds. Another turnover. Kings ball.
The Suns ended up scoring only 12 points in the entire third quarter. I smell a frustrated postgame locker room coming on.
Then Travis Outlaw made a three pointer and a long two to open the fourth, and more light went out of the Suns sails. The Suns were really hesitant on offense, hesitant on defense. Just bad all around.
At least the Suns won't have the frustration of barely losing in the final seconds this time.
This team on the floor tonight - all 11 guys that have played - have been a collective buzzkill together. Nothing going. No confidence. No brashness. Dragic was all alone on his fast breaks again, playing with the backups as time wound inexscoribly down. No 2013-14 version. Just the same old last-season Suns. A collective Morris night.
That's the dregs, folks.
Notes from the first half: