The Phoenix Suns lost to the Nets at home on Monday night, a week after beating them out in Brooklyn during a 10-day five-game road trip full of highs and lows. The Suns lost to the Spurs on Sunday afternoon then flew home to host the Nets on Monday night.
“First game back is sometimes a tough one,” coach Jay Triano said. “They had more bounce than us.”
The Suns came out really really flat, making only 20% of their shots for the first 14+ minutes of game time, and got down 34-19 early in the second quarter.
“It was hard for us to score tonight whatever it could be tired legs or just bad execution, a little bit of both,” forward Jared Dudley said.
Dudley got the night’s biggest cheer in the first half when he made his patented three from the right wing, and sparked a Suns mini-comeback from 15-down to 2-down.
“From what I saw out there was bad ball movement,” he said. “No one talking on defense, and overall the intensity you have to have, especially on back-to-backs. That’s what a bench player is supposed to do and that’s what I’ve learned throughout my career.”
But that just-short run was the story of the night. The Suns held the lead only one more time, for about three seconds, instead insisting on remaining 3-10 points down the whole night. It was an impressive effort, including missed dunks and transition layups, missed free throws and clanked open shots.
After Devin Booker poured in 9 points on four shots in the opening four minutes of the game, putting Booker over 3,000 points for his career and giving the Suns an early 14-10 lead, the Nets decided they simply weren’t going to let Devin Booker win the game all by himself.
The Nets stuck like glue to Booker the rest of the night, rotating Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and others onto Booker defensively, always keeping a fresh, quick, long-armed guy in between Booker and the ball. Booker went 3-11 the rest of the way.
They also made Booker work super-hard on the defensive end by running his man in circles from screen to screen all over the court.
“They were the aggressors on both ends from the start of the game,” Booker said afterward.
The Nets committed tons of fouls in their effort to contain Booker and his teammates, some called and some not.
“It was a lot of tugging and clawing. A lot of fouls,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “But we found a way. Our defense was good.”
The Nets committed 30 fouls, giving the Suns 35 free throws. Rookie Caris LeVert had five steals and four personal fouls alone. Carroll (4), Dinwiddie (3), Joe Harris (3) and Allen Crabbe (4) all collected fouls like Halloween candy.
But it worked. Booker was frustrated and winded all night. He made only 6 of 15 shots, committed 4 turnovers.
But the worst part is that Booker was flapped (the opposite of unflappable). He got so frustrated with the game that he fouled out on a reach-in with 2:37 left and the Suns down only five points.
Did he know he had five fouls when he reached in and committed that sixth?
He didn’t elaborate further.
In a refreshing twist from the last year and a half, coach Jay Triano took much of the blame for Booker’s difficult pair of games, where teams simply decided Booker wasn’t going to beat them.
How do you get Booker easier shots?
“As a team, myself included,” Triano said. “I have to come up with better plays to try to get him looks. Everybody’s defense is going to focus on him. San Antonio did the same thing last night, and it wears him down having to work so hard to get the basketball. We have to be continuously looking at different ways to try to get him easy touches.”
It can be done. Triano comes from a Portland team that found touches galore for a pair of guard you may have heard of: Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
The Nets themselves were pleasantly surprised with their success.
“That was the first time we’ve held a team under 100 this year,” Nets guard Allen Crabbe said afterward.
In fact, they’d given up 110+ in nearly every game to date. But they somehow held the Suns to 92 on points despite giving up 35 freebie attempts (the Suns made 29).
The Suns just couldn’t find the range as a team: 20% shooting in the opening quarter. 28% by halftime. 35% of the game. That’s not gonna get it done.
Triano mixed and matched like crazy, trying to find the hot hand. There weren’t any.
“We tried a bunch of different guys to see if we could get a bunch of different guys going but it was tough to make shots,” Triano said.
On to the next one.
Goran Dragic and the Miami Heat come calling on Wednesday night.