The Phoenix Suns came so close to going 3-1 on the season against some of the best competition in the Western Conference, but a series of mistakes and head-scratching calls contributed to an anti-climactic one point loss to drop the Suns to 2-2.
The Suns had a four point lead, 92-88, with 2:37 left to play after Ricky Rubio made a tough layup. But then the next 30 seconds was a disaster, resulting in a Jazz 7-0 run to go down 95-92 with 1:45 left.
The #Bulldog Jevon Carter made a three to tie the game up 95-95, but Kelly Oubre Jr. missed a potential game winner and Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz drew a foul with, according to the officials, 0.4 seconds left on the clock — four tenths of a second — to win it on a free throw.
Bojan Bogdanovic was the Jazz best offensive player on the night by far, with 29 points on only 13 shots. The offseason addition from the Pacers made four three pointers and all nine of his free throws. Gobert was a beast against the undermanned and undersized Suns in the absence of Deandre Ayton.
Even with the loss, the Suns have proven they are a good team. Every coach has given similar feedback.
“They play hard for one thing,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder on the Suns. “I thought they were physical with us defensively. They took us out of our comfort zone. They’re just a competitive group, and it’s a credit to Monty and credit to the players on their team. That’s why they’ve played as well as they have, they’re a good team.”
“They deserved to win too,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert admitted. “But we were able to grind it out and we won.”
Indeed, the inimitable basketall-reference.com has the Suns with the league’s third best score on their ‘Simple Rating System’. According to the same site, the Suns have the league’s 6th best defense and 12th best offense after a week of playing two of those games against the vaunted defenses of the Clippers and the Jazz, plus the Nuggets and Kings.
But they’re still only 2-2 on the season.
Let’s break down the final minutes, everything that happened after the Suns took a 92-88 lead with 2:37 left to play...
Double Screen and Roll to Gobert — 92-90 Suns, 2:24 left
After Aron Baynes fouled out, the Suns were stuck with Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric trying to manage Rudy Gobert in the paint. On the very next play, Mike Conley and Gobert hooked up for their only alley-oop of the night.
Gobert set a high screen on Rubio, forcing Kaminsky to switch onto the driving Conley. But then Bojan set his own screen on Kaminsky — a double-screen which ended up freeing both Conley and Gobert on the drive with Saric as the only line of defense.
Kaminsky was screened. Rubio was chasing Conley from behind. Dario Saric — Bojan’s defender and lone remaining paint protector — switched onto Conley’s drive and lost sight of the now-rolling Gobert.
Rubio turnover, Jazz FB bucket — 92-92 tie; 2:06 left
On the next play, Ricky drove the lane against Conley, with Gobert sinking into the paint to protect the rim. In the act, Gobert left Kaminsky all by his lonesome popping back to the three point line. A nice easy outlet to Frank could have generated the open look the Suns wanted.
But Rubio went all the way to the hole, drawing Gobert and Conley under the basket. Rubio never saw Kaminsky and lost the ball in the paint on an ill-advised behind the back bounce pass to no one. It’s as if Rubio expected Kaminsky to trail him into the paint rather than pop out.
Turnover. Runout for the Jazz. Tie game.
Booker turnover, Jazz FB bucket and-one — 95-92 Jazz, 1:45 left
Booker gets the ball near mid-court on a clear out. Kaminsky sets a high screen, forcing Gobert to take Booker out beyond the three point line. Booker immediately attempts to drive past Gobert. Against any normal center, Booker gets to the rim with ease on the switch.
Kaminsky’s screen is marginally ineffective, allowing Joe Ingles to recover back to Booker enough to cut off any middle drive. Booker has to pass, or shoot driving left on Gobert. Booker drives, rather than pop to Kaminsky immediately for a three.
Gobert stays with Booker going left. A blink later, Donovan Mitchell is now positioned on the weak side to poach any pass back to Kaminsky at the top of the arc or Oubre on the wing, and Bojan and O’Neale are perfectly on Rubio and Saric in the corners.
Booker, with no passing angles, leaves his feet for pass or shot but has neither. Gobert is right there for the threat of a block, and no Suns are open. Coming down from his jump, Booker decides to just dump the ball into the lane, hoping maybe for a cutter to materialize now that he’d occupied Gobert and Ingles.
Turnover. Runout for the Jazz. Kaminsky makes it worse by lamely tagging Bogdanovic on his drive, giving up three point play instead of a two-point play. Jazz now have a three-point lead.
“We had two turnovers in a row in crunch time – it started with me – and we have to figure that out,” Rubio said. “It’s early in the season, we know that we have to get together and learn from that.”
“The one I turned over, I tried to draw a foul on (Rudy) Gobert,” Booker said later. “And the one Ricky (Rubio) did he did a behind-the-back pass, but we talked about it, we just have to make the adjustments and in that winning time lock in.”
Booker said more on their execution issues in crunch time.
“I’d say the last two minutes of the half – our last three possessions of the [first] half and our last two of the game,” Booker said of mistakes. “Me and Ricky (Rubio) both had costly turnovers that turned into quick points for them, and down the stretch that can’t happen.”
The Suns managed the ball well all game, but gave up a 8-0 run late in the first half, then that 7-0 run here that spelled the difference.
Carter three — 95-95 tie, 47.3 seconds left
After each team missed a three, the Suns worked and worked on their next possession to get another look, ending up with second-year man Jevon Carter making a three to tie the game!
That was Carter’s third three of the game, to give him 15 points along with 3 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals in 27 minutes off the bench.
“It felt good, but it ended quick,” Carter said of the shot. “It would have felt real good if we’d have got the win.”
Mitchell turnover — still tied 95-95; 30.4 seconds left
After that, the Suns forced a turnover by Donovan Mitchell to get the ball with 30.7 left to go for the win.
The Jazz got five-foul Rubio onto Gobert in the paint, but Mitchell did not see it and passed the ball to no one out of bounds when he was bottled up on his drive by Booker.
If you stop the replay, you can see that the ball actually hit the hardwood out of bounds with 30.7 left. But the human-controlled time operator hit the clock stop at 30.4. Referees did not review the time.
Oubre miss — still tied 95-95; 7.3 seconds left
With 30.4 left in a tie game, Booker took the ball at the top of the arc again. Rubio had been subbed out for Tyler Johnson to give the Suns a full set of shooters on the wing for a five-out set. Carter — Booker — Johnson — Oubre — Kaminsky.
Booker got free of Ingles and drove the lane toward a waiting Gobert. Surely Booker didn’t want to get blocked for the second potential game winner in a row, and Gobert is long enough to even contest a quick pull-up by Booker in the lane. So Booker’s best play was to pass to an open shooter.
O’Neale left Oubre alone in the corner, so Booker swung the pass to him for the... clank.
“I thought he made the right play,” Monty Williams said later. “The defense collapsed, I think Kelly had a wide open look, we’ll take that every night.”
“I’ll take that shot any day of the week,” Booker said of the play. “Kelly, he’ll make the next one, he’ll shoot the next one. It’s just a miss and make league, and he got the shot that he wanted and he missed it. That’s part of the game.”
Oubre, who had made a big three a few minutes earlier, was so frustrated in the locker room that none of us bothered to even risk asking him about the miss. He's as angry at himself as anyone.
Did the Suns have the right shooters on the floor on that play? Yes, for now.
Maybe in the future, if Aron Baynes doesn’t foul out, Mikal Bridges ever makes another three, rookie Cameron Johnson finds his rhythm, or rookie Ty Jerome gets healthy and hits big shots, the Suns won’t have to have a 33% three point shooter on the wing for the kickout in a game-winning situation. As it is, Oubre is one of the best three-point shooters and big-shot takers on the team so far this season.
Before you get too mad at Oubre, take a look at some great highlights from him in this game alone. He’s a big reason the Suns were even in the game.
One factor I've been impressed with this season is Kelly Oubre. After signing a 2-yr deal, he's been a spark plug on this squad.— Suns Video Breakdown (@SunsVideo) October 29, 2019
Here are some clips from tonight's game. His high energy, scrappiness on D, & willingness to attack off the dribble helped the #Suns nearly get the W. pic.twitter.com/aIp2upxDfL
Be sure to click through on the twitter link, and follow @SunsVideo!
And that’s how we got to the end...
Donovan Mitchell Free Throw, 96-95 Jazz,
1.8 0.4 seconds left
Here’s the play
And here’s the screenshot
With just over seven seconds left, Donovan Mitchell tries his own hero ball. Except Mitchell doesn’t have to contend with a center like Gobert in the lane, so he has a clear shot to make a layup or draw the foul.
He drew the foul.
Except there was 1.8 seconds left on the clock when Mitchell was fouled and the referee blew the whistle, but the time operator didn’t hit the stop button till the loose ball bounced out of bounds at 0.4 seconds left.
“Yes, we looked at it,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I tried to get them to look at it. We look at all kinds of stuff, flagrant fouls, pushing and shoving the whole game. Then a pivotal point in the game, we don’t even review it.”
With 1.8 seconds left, the Suns could have used their last timeout to advance the ball to midcourt, and a full (estimated) 1 - 1.5 seconds to execute a final shot attempt.
But the referees did not review the time. Final seconds of a tie game. And there’s no official review?!!? The time was stopped, the ball dead. The officials had reviewed calls and time issues ALL GAME until those final two minutes.
Yes, Monty Williams could have called for a coach’s challenge. But the coach’s challenge is limited in scope, especially in the last two minutes, and in this case could have only been used to contest the foul call. It would have been up to the referees to use that challenge time to check and fix the clock. The NBA specifically does not give the coaches the right to challenge the time on the clock. That control is clearly in the hands of the on-court officials.
“I don't know,” Williams said. “It’s one of those situations where maybe I could have. That’s a tough one. I was talking to [official] Tony Brown the whole time, at least look at it. It’s the last two minutes.”
In the NBA, the coach’s challenge in the final two minutes is limited.
No review. No coach’s challenge. Mitchell makes one. With 0.4 seconds left, there’s not even time to set up a play. Mitchell intentionally misses second free throw, forcing that last 0.4 seconds to be used gathering possession, which is required before a timeout can be used.
Should Monty have used his coach’s challenge? Sure. His only downside was losing his final timeout. But he couldn’t use that last timeout anyway, since you have to assume the Jazz would intentionally miss the second free throw. The Coach’s Challenge is technically only for the foul call, which was clearly a foul on Booker. There’s only a tangential hope the refs would have changed the time remaining after looking at replays while upholding the foul call. Still, why not try?
Should the referees have fixed the time anyway? YES. They shouldn’t have needed Monty to call for a challenge. They should have used the dead ball opportunity to check the time on the clock. It’s not like no one picked up on the time issue. Both Williams and Rubio were begging them to check the time.
I can’t wait to see if the league says anything today, or if the ‘last two minutes’ report mentions the time issue.
“But that wasn’t the reason we lost,” Williams said of that 1.8 seconds versus 0.4 seconds. “Our ball movement was a bit stagnant tonight. When we did move the ball we got open shots, played with pace but early in the game we did not have the ball movement.”
Williams also added, “They shot 38 free throws, so we’re either fouling too much or not getting the whistle we want. So they get to set their defense against us all night, because we put them on the line. That’s on us.”
Indeed, the Jazz shot 39 free throws to the Suns 23. Last in the third quarter, I noted that the free throw discrepancy had narrowed to 24-20. So that means the Jazz closed the game by out-freebie-ing the Suns 15-3.
Much of that is the Suns playing very physical and not yet having the good reputation with the officials that this is how they play. The Jazz play physical too, but their reputation is built over years of practice. The Suns only have four games of it.
“We have to earn that respect, man,” Devin Booker said after the game. “Coming out here, we’re fighting every day. They’ll eventually learn that this is us. It’s not a fluke. That we’re supposed to be winning these games.”
“I like the way that we’re playing,” Rubio said. “I like the way that we’re being aggressive, and things will work out.”
“There’s a lot of actors out there on that court,” Jevon Carter said. “Myself included. we make it hard on the refs to know when it’s a foul and when it’s not. We’re always flopping and stuff, trying to get a foul.”
The Suns are 2-2, with a pair of road games coming up to close out the week.
Next two games
- Wednesday, at Golden State (1-2 on the season)
- Saturday, at Memphis (1-2 on the season, facing Lakers tonight)