After a while, everyone gets a little bit numb to what they continually endure.
For what feels like the 18th straight game, the “young” Phoenix Suns competed for 3-3.5 quarters before collapsing to the opponent. This time it was the Houston Rockets turning a 2-point lead with 3 minutes left in the 3rd quarter into a 15-point lead just a five game minutes later.
Early in the season, Suns coach Earl Watson would come to the post game presser incensed over the loss. He would rail against the notion of good losses or moral victories.
Now, he’s taking a different tack.
“You know our bench, sometimes we’re good and recently we’ve been having challenges, but our guys played hard. To me this is impressive,” Watson began, moments after the final buzzer of a 14-point loss.
“We know we have our challenges once we get deeper into the game because more players play. But continue to push through, figure it out, continue to work hard. So, the focus for us right now is play as hard as we can, put ourselves in a position to win. And every day we practice, we have to deal with a mindset of hard work, edge, and build a continuity in our mindset with our young group.”
This is all well and good, and may be signaling a shift toward accepting losses which might then lead to a shift of getting the youngest guys more minutes on the court.
But until then, Watson is fighting these blazing fires with the biggest garden hoses he’s got.
P.J. Tucker played 31 minutes to T.J. Warren’s 29 and Dragan Bender’s two. Brandon Knight played 26 minutes to Tyler Ulis’ five.
Watson did spread out the minutes better, with Devin Booker leading the team at 36, and no other player topping 31 minutes. But that was helped by the Rockets’ blowout taking all the tension away after about the 9-minute mark of the 4th. Until then, Bender, Ulis and Chriss had combined for just over 10 minutes of game time total.
In particular, Watson insisted pregame that he would find time for Bender (“We have to find ways to get him experience on the court, not just in practice”), echoing comments to 98.7’s ‘Doug and Wolf’ on Tuesday, but didn’t play Bender until the final two minutes of the game.
One good sign was that Devin Booker had arguably his best HOME game of the year. Booker had been awful at home this season (15.5 points per game at home versus 22.3 on the road), but had 28 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds.
His best play was one of his last, so we can savor it for a couple of days.
HOW SWAY!? #WeArePHX #NBAVine https://t.co/pTB2vPIcIv— NBA (@NBA) December 22, 2016
Booker had four dunks in the game, more than any other game this season.
“He looks bouncy and springy,” Watson said of his 20 year old. “That’s a positive seeing him get his momentum back.”
But even though Booker led the team in assists (7), don’t expect him to have the ball in his hands any more going forward.
“We have point guards,” Watson said. “He’ll get enough action with the ball in his hands. You let Booker play any position, he’ll try and play the five, too.”
Why give the ball to Booker more, when the Suns can keep playing with their current point guards who lead the team to league-worst rankings in every playmaker stat: 30th in assist rate, 30th in assist-to-turnover percentage and 30th in overall assists per game?
Booker, to his credit, spent more time admitting the Suns deficiencies on defense than anyone else who spoke post-game.
“We’re in slump right now, overall, as a team,” Booker said. “Stopping people in transition and it’s mostly on the defensive end. It’s something we’ve been working on in practice, it’s just when it comes to game time, we’re still not doing it.”
He even talked about the Suns’ intentions in the game.
“When they have so many shooters on the floor, it’s tough to guard,” he said. “We were trying to give up the roll all night and they’re still getting threes. We weren’t leaving the corners, we weren’t leaving the wing, and they’re still making tough shots.”
James Harden had 11 assists at halftime and 14 for the game. Patrick Beverly had 9 assists as well. After missing his first three 3s, Eric Gordon went on to catch-and-shoot-and-make 7 of his next 10 three-pointers. Ryan Anderson made 3 of 7. James Harden made 5 of 11 himself.
Now watch the highlights, including all four dunks and a couple of catch-and-shoot-and-makes.
The other good sign was T.J. Warren playing like himself again. After scoring only two points in his two previous games since returning from missing 13 games, Warren was the Tony Buckets of old.
Warren had 19 points on 9-of-17 shooting, plus 5 rebounds and lots of hustle plays.
“TJ found his rhythm,” Watson said. “Big shots, he plays within his own pace, great scorer, deflections, getting up to the ball fighting. We love T.J.”
Here’s Warren in his own words.
The Suns now are tied for the worst record in the West at 8-21. On Friday, they host the team with the worst record in the East, the ever-losing Philadephia 76ers at 7-21.
Come downtown to watch Joel Embiid give a glimpse of the Sixers potentially brighter future while the Suns’ Devin Booker tries to post really good back-to-back home games.