The mantra of this franchise in 2019 has become “never too high, never too low,” and that is true in losses as with wins, even if no one wants to buy into moral victories.
So while a 123-115 loss to the Western Conference-leading Lakers isn’t going to make anyone in the Suns’ locker room celebrate, it was a noticeably more positive vibe after this loss than after Utah or Miami.
The Suns understand they were playing against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a bunch of veteran players who should win close games like these. They are hungry to dominate as well, but they will settle for a close battle and relish the opportunity to learn from failing.
Fighting ‘hasn’t been a problem all season’
After three weeks, the Suns know they can stay in games thanks to their focused execution on both ends and the accountability instilled by Monty Williams. Staying close with Los Angeles came as no surprise.
“If we come out and fight like we did tonight with the energy that we did, we’ll be alright,” Devin Booker said.
After fouls dominated the first half, the Lakers burned the Suns on the same play repeatedly in the third quarter to build a lead.
Shockingly, it was Avery Bradley finishing as a scorer, with James and Davis screening. Aron Baynes noted that the Suns need to be able to adjust instantly, and not rely on Williams to make those calls.
“We need to be able to make those adjustments on the fly a bit quicker,” Baynes said. “It’s a learning experience. It’s tough to learn, but the good thing is we need to get a lot better.”
Cam Johnson impresses, closes the game
At shootaround in the morning, Williams said the Suns couldn’t expect to handle James the same way they corralled Ben Simmons in a victory over Philadelphia. The difference, Williams said, was that James was a willing perimeter scorer and posed different problems for the defense.
That meant Kelly Oubre Jr. got the James matchup to begin, and struggled mightily. Oubre was punished by James and couldn’t get in rhythm. That followed him to the offensive side, where he finished 0-5 from the floor.
By the end of the game, Williams decided rookie Cam Johnson deserved to close against the mighty Lakers.
“That’s why he was out there, he was fighting,” Williams said. “He stays in front of his man, he’s typically in the right spot.”
Though Williams noted he didn’t execute perfectly in pick-and-roll coverage against James late in the game, the big thing always for Williams will be effort and coachability.
Hear more about what Williams thought of Johnson and the team’s performance overall:
If you’re looking for evidence that the way these rookies are being handled is more beneficial than it was for the Suns in years past, take it from Johnson:
“Those four guys are helping me get in the right spots,” the rookie said, “and then on top of that, just playing. There are some plays I kind of wish went the other way, some rebounds they got, some shots that weren’t falling, and to lose the game makes it sting a little bit, and I could have had a lot more impact in changing the outcome.”
These moments matter. Johnson will likely remember this game for a while, both for the highs and the lows.
Bright Side will have more on the rise of Cam Johnson over the course of the week.
Finally, you can watch Booker’s media scrum in full if you want to hear more from him: