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Final Score: Suns fight back, but fall to Pacers 109-104

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The Pacers made two late threes to separate from the Suns.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Suns fought travel fatigue all night, and couldn’t get their legs under them until third quarter when Kokoskov happened upon a lineup that worked.

The Pacers fought back with offensive rebounds and active hands, their trademarks, and then the Suns struggled to score in the final minutes when the Pacers defense tightened again.

With the game tied at 101-101, Myles Turner hit a BIG three with 47.7 seconds left to give the Pacers the lead. It was Turner’s first three of the game, and the Pacers’ 10th overall.

Booker tied it, of course.

Then Bojan Bogdanovic made his own three, putting the Pacers up 107-104 with 25 seconds left. Timeout Suns.

Booker missed the attempt to answer with Myles Turner defending. Halfway down, then all the way out.

Dammit.

Pacers end up winning 109-104 after free throws and another missed three.

The Suns would have won this game if not for the efforts of the Pacers’ Domantis Sabonis (16 boards, 7 on offense) and Doug McDermott (5 threes).

Milestone

Deandre Ayton became only the fourth NBA player since 1992 to score 300 points and grab 200 rebounds in their first 20 games of their career. The others: Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal.

Starting Lineups

Suns: Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Trevor Ariza, T.J. Warren, Deandre Ayton

Pacers: Darren Collison, Tyreke Evans, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic

First Half

Real curious to see how the Suns start the game. Coach Igor Kokoskov started his pregame presser warning us that the first home game after coming off a long road trip is always tough. Focus can be lacking. I asked him if that was the vibe he was getting from his players and, with a smile, he refused to answer that one. Saying he’d keep it to himself.

Luckily both the Suns and Pacers came out playing about 34 speed. Neither team seemed interested in pushing the pace or action. Looked like a scrimmage most of the first quarter.

Question is which team will end up punching the gas pedal first.

Fittingly, Suns-Pacers is tied after one lackluster quarter at 26-26.

Booker with 7 points and 4 assists. Deandre Ayton has 8 and 5.

Welp, the second quarter unit bites the Suns in the butt again.

Coach Kokoskov leaves a lineup of Crawford, Canaan, Jackson, Ariza and Holmes in there way too long and suddenly a tie game turns into an 11-point deficit before ANY other starters come back in.

No, Igor, putting Ariza with the second unit does not make them play better. After 20 games, this should be obvious.

From there, the starters just couldn’t get back in the game because they didn’t play hard enough. Simple as that.

To make matters worse, the Suns did not hustle to any rebounds outside their area. The Pacers got to every loose ball and carom rebound. Even on a block by Ayton, the Pacers gathered the loose ball and got it back to the blockee (Sabonis) for the uncontested layin.

Perfect example of the first half: Booker got a breakaway foul, meaning two shots and the ball, with the Suns down 10. But he MISSED both free throws and then made a turnover by failing to feed Ayton early enough in the post. Two shots and the ball = 0 points.

Suns down 7 at halftime, 61-54.

Sabonis and McDermott combined for 26 off the bench on 9/15 shooting.

The Suns bench? Jamal Crawford had 10 points at halftime, but most of those points were with most of the starters on the floor.

Ayton leads the Suns with 14 points and 7 rebounds and a block. Booker has 7 assists, but only 9 points on 12 shots (including 3 free throws).

Second half

Not sure how the team is going to pull out of this deficit. And surely as the quarter starts it appears the players don’t either.

Simply just don’t have the energy.

The second half became what looked like a death march to the finish line. None of the Suns players looked like they knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing. A step slow, too much time on their heels, very little hustle.

Finally in the second half, Kokoskov varied the substitutions and found a tiny spark of energy from a lineup with Jackson in for Ariza and Canaan in for Bridges, though Bridges was decidedly NOT the problem with the starting unit.

The Suns had a chance to pull within four points, but Jackson — who has played well in this stretch — missed/airballed a corner three and the Pacers answered with free throws.

Then Jackson finally DID make the big play and got the Suns to within five. A minute later a big Canaan three brought the Suns back to within four points after three quarters. Suns finish the quarter on a 13-4 run spurred by active defense.

Love the energy! Pacers up only 81-77 after three.

Two possessions into the 4th quarter the Suns had the lead on T.J. three.

A minute later the Suns with a Warren-led (instead of Ariza-led) second unit had a four point lead.

But the loose balls weren’t doing the Suns any favors, even with extra energy. Once Warren and Canaan both dove for a rebound and knocked each other out of bounds. Another time Holmes had a huge block, but three Suns all thought the other guy had a loose ball but no one grabbed it.

And eventually, the Pacers got themselves layups or free throws by being bigger than the Suns small lineup, taking offensive rebounds by the handful. The Pacers couldn’t make shots but grabbed six offensive rebounds (mostly Sabonis) to keep their team alive and the Suns close.

The Suns had a one-point lead with 7:28 left as Devin Booker and Ariza came back in (but without Warren, Bridges or Ayton yet).

Sabonis is really trying to keep the Pacers in this game. In the first 6.5 minutes of the fourth quarter, Sabonis had 6 rebounds to go with 4 points.

The starters struggled to keep the game under control, and Ariza made a three to tie it with 2.5 minutes left.