After seeming to break through on the road to become a more cohesive team, the Phoenix Suns laid a big, steamy mess all over their court against a Knicks team that had just been beaten soundly the night before in Denver.
"On the road, when we played, we played aggressive. We played with intensity and passion," coach Earl Watson said after. "Today, we came out and acted like we were supposed to win. That can't happen. And the reason why we have just 17 wins is because we have no consistency, in our intensity or our purpose and how we play."
Yes coach, this is the hallmark of a 17-win team. We are used to seeing performances like that one. Unfortunately.
The Suns came out collectively submissive against the Knicks, just like they had in January against the Lakers (scoring 22 first-half points) and the Kings (allowing 142 points in regulation) on consecutive days. This time, they appeared to try to combine both of those season-low showings into a single game.
Here are two telling stats:
- Assists in the first 15 minutes of play: 0
- Offensive rebounds in the first 15 minutes of play: 0
- Deficit in the first 15 minutes of play: up to 14 points
But this is March now, so the easy-to-reach excuse is summer vacation.
"When you get to the end of the season and you have four or five weeks left," Watson said after the game. "It's you versus summer vacation. It's not really just you versus the other team. So when we prepare our team, we understand we have to constantly fight and discourage them from thinking ‘summer vacation.'"
Apparently, Tyson Chandler is one of those who was already planning his summer vacation - maybe even to New York for a few days - instead of playing against the Knicks.
Chandler mustered only 4 points and 9 rebounds in 26 minutes against the Knicks. He was coming off consecutive double-doubles on the road against the Magic and Grizzlies, but apparently wanted no part of Kristaps Prozingis in front of the Suns fans.
His body language all night was lackadaisical, but Watson played him 26 of the first 36 minutes anyway. In fact, by the end of the third quarter, Watson had played all the starters all but 8-9 minutes of the game. Maybe he was trying to make the veterans play their way out of the funk, but they refused.
The exception - Devin Booker
Of course, the one who played really well (at least on offense) was Devin Booker. Booker had 32 points on 14 made field goals, the most made field goals by a Suns rookie since Amare Stoudemire almost 15 years ago.
"He was in a flow so we continue to go to him," point guard Ronnie Price said. "We need Devin to be aggressive every night. We need him to create shots for himself and for others every night. He's been doing a great job of that these past couple of games and he's made progress all year."
By go to him, Price means just to give Booker the ball and let him work. No one was feeding Booker for open looks in the first half. You saw the stat above. Booker had 10 points in the first quarter+ where the Suns had no assists.
It wasn't ALL good for Booker though. He has his flaws. Devin lost his man time and time again on defense. Sasha Vujacic, yes THAT Sasha, made his first six threes (all WIIIIIIIDDDEEEEE open) and seven of eight shots for the game for a season high 23 points. That 23 points was just 2 short of a career high. Vujacic hadn't even exceeded 13 points in a whole game since 2011. Five years ago.
But set that aside for the moment. Let's talk about Booker's offense.
Booker scored 32 points to become only...
- the second rookie this year to have three different 30+ point games. Only Karl-Anthony Towns, the first overall pick, has as many.
- the first non-#1-overall-pick to have three or more 30+ point games as a rookie since Damian Lillard (5 times) in the 2012-13 season
- the third player ever with three or more 30+ point games at such a young age of 19 years, 131 days old: the others are LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
- the fourth teenager ever with three or more 30+ point games (add in Carmelo Anthony, who had his third 30+ game slightly older than Devin)
- among Phoenix Suns in history, only Alvan Adams and Walter Davis had three or more 30+ points games as rookies. Both are in the Suns Ring of Honor. (Booker won't reach Davis' whopping 17 times though)
So hang your hat on that, Suns fans. Booker is a core piece everyone wants to watch for the next decade or two.
The other youngster
Alex Len started game awfully. We got to see the confused, hesitant Len in the first half that we'd all come to get tired of. Within four minutes, Len had as many fouls (2) as rebounds, and was 0-1 from the field. He sat the rest of the quarter.
But in the third quarter, he went back to being the aggressive Len we've seen for weeks. Len had 10 points and 6 rebounds in the third quarter alone, helping propel him to his sixth consecutive double-double - a career high, for sure. No Phoenix Suns player has had 6 straight double-doubles since Marcin Gortat (9) in 2012.
There's another building block, though not quite as firm as Booker.
And then there's Knight
Brandon Knight was cleared by the medical staff after practice yesterday and was on the active roster for the first time in almost two months. He was in uniform, and available to play.
When the Suns started the game with ZERO assists in the first quarter, needing a spark off the bench, who came in to save the day?
John Jenkins. (spoiler: John Jenkins is never going to save the day)
Wither Brandon Knight?
He'd told coach Watson he wasn't ready to go yet, so Watson didn't put him in the game. Asked about it afterward, Watson clearly told the media that it's Knight's call when he's ready to go in. The staff has cleared him, and now it's just up to Knight. Knight declined.
We don't know any more than this, so I won't speculate. A sports hernia is like any other soft tissue injury - no one but the injured person can tell you how much pain they feel. Doctor's can only tell is there's a tear. So if Knight is still in pain, he's still in pain. And in a season like this, there's absolutely zero reason to risk re-injury just to get out there in an early-March game.
The tank is alive, ladies and gentleman.
Pay attention to Devin Booker and Alex Len for the rest of the season.
Let's see if Booker can hit 40+ in a game. I thought for sure he'd hit it last night, having 32 by early in the fourth. But then he sat the rest of the blowout. He's got lots more chances.