Phoenix came back to win its first game of a seven-game homestand — in its final chance to do so, Bright Side Night 2019.
Josh Jackson and Deandre Ayton got the scoring started with efficient looks around the basket, scoring four points in the Suns’ first two possessions. Sacramento combated the Suns’ sturdy scoring with two tough 3s and missed both. Considering Phoenix started the last Kings game with a 36-9 first quarter, staying close early was vital.
Getting Jackson moving downhill was the focus of the Suns’ offense to start the game. It was Jackson finishing off the pick-and-roll with Ayton after a ball reversal, in Booker’s role. His mostly good decisions slashing to the basket gave the Suns an early 14-10 lead.
T.J. Warren has not yet scored but every other #Suns starter has to lead 14-10 with 6:58 left in the first.— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) January 9, 2019
You or I could have predicted the overall gameplan, but coach Igor Kokoskov said it plainly pregame — the Suns needed T.J. Warren in this game. So while the early drive-and-kick game from Jackson was effective revving up the Suns’ offense, they needed Warren. He responded with five quick points to maintain the team’s lead. Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica was no match for Warren’s quickness.
However, Sacramento’s hot shooting start threatened that Suns lead in a hurry. The Kings started the game 4-7 from distance despite Phoenix controlling tempo. In particular, De’Anthony Melton’s continued struggles as a rookie defending ball-handlers was magnified against the electric De’Aaron Fox. Melton played about 10 minutes then came out for Jamal Crawford before returning at the end of the first period, a departure from Kokoskov’s usual rotation in which Crawford would play from the end of the first through most of the second.
The Suns led, 35-32, after 12 minutes.
The 3,300 kids who got to come see the Suns thanks to support from Bright Side readers and Suns fans everywhere were surely excited to see the Warren-Jackson show to start, but we all know what they really wanted to see: QUINCY ACY. The forward, recently signed to a 10-day contract, had every opportunity early to affect the game, taking Jackson’s usual spot in the rotation. He forced a couple misses and did his job in four early minutes.
Yet the ripple effect of Booker’s absence on the rotation showed itself quickly, Acy included. It left inconsistent defenders like Troy Daniels and Jamal Crawford overextended with ugly consequences. That early hot shooting for the Kings ballooned into something legitimately worrisome, as they made 10 of their first 17 attempts.
The Suns let that frustration mount into another foul fest, giving the Kings 12 trips to the line in the first half. Jamal Crawford picked up two personal fouls and a technical foul in his 10 minutes of play and the Suns could not defend without fouling whatsoever.
Sacramento put together a 40-18 period to take a 19-point lead.
Things started well for Phoenix, recapturing the energy they began the game with and cutting Sacramento’s lead to 15 momentarily by creating easy offense in transition. They just had no answer for Fox.
In an effort to inject some life into the team, just days after a fairly frustrated postgame press conference response when asked about Ayton’s offensive aggressiveness, Kokoskov took the rookie out with about ten minutes left, inserting Richaun Holmes in his place. The Suns promptly went on a 11-3 run.
The team’s answer for Fox came in the form of Kelly Oubre Jr., whose fearlessness taking shots continues to be of massive value to the Suns. He made five of his first six shots to put up 16 huge points off the bench for the Suns.
Through defense and ball movement, the Suns extended their run to 21-8 from the time Holmes stepped on the court, with Daniels and Warren hitting big shots repeatedly, mirroring the Kings’ hot second quarter.
By the end of the period, Phoenix had tied the game at 86, outscoring the Kings 33-14 in the third.
BANG. The period started with a massive three by Crawford off an offensive rebound by Holmes. Suns were up three at that point.
Then, Kings forward Justin Jackson sunk just one of three free throws after a shooting foul and technical foul by Quincy Acy set Jackson up to tie the contest.
When Ayton returned, the Suns kept the energy up. This was huge, and not something that happens for this team every night. Kokoskov called a rub set immediately for Daniels and Ayton, resulting in a post bucket for the rookie big man.
Kokoskov has said he gets “embarrassed” that he can’t find more minutes for Daniels, and the veteran showed him why against the Kings. He scored 11 points overall and nailed a massive three from the weak-side corner to give the Suns a five-point lead with about five minutes to play.
To combat Warren’s return to the game, Kings coach Dave Joerger slid Justin Jackson down to the four, taking away Warren’s athletic advantage over Bjelica. Warren scored a quick bucket to put the Suns back up with three minutes left. But it was Willie Cauley-Stein’s rim protection that helped the Kings’ defense most. He finished with three blocks.
As Fox attempted to close out the Suns much like Kemba Walker did Sunday, the Suns stayed close. A Melton putback recaptured the lead for Phoenix, 110-109, with 1:10 to play. Then, an Ayton offensive rebound turned into free throws for Oubre. The Suns just kept making plays to keep their hopes alive.
Finally Oubre, following a wild Warren floater, slammed home a putback dunk to give the Suns a 114-11 lead they would not relinquish.