The Suns dropped their third straight and only national television game of the year, 124-116, to Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans in a small-ball shootout.
The game started, of all things, with an emphatic blocked dunk by none other than Tyler Johnson, the smallest guy on the court. He handed the business to rookie center Jaxson Hayes, who gazed up from the ground in wonderment after being blocked by the smaller guard.
That turned on the up-and-down style that both teams like, meaning we got more wild plays and more crazy moments.
We got two and-one made three-pointers — one from JJ Redick and one from Kelly Oubre Jr. — as well as another dunk from Hayes. This time, it went in, though Johnson tried once again to block it.
But it was Redick who really got hot. He thrived in the speed of the game, not only setting up Hayes for both dunk attempts but nailing his first five shots from the field, including that and-one three. Redick had 14 before everyone was seated.
When Lonzo Ball, in his first game since Nov. 8, checked in, he picked up where Redick left off. Ball nailed two jumpers right away for five quick points. The crowd booed him, though, in case you had lost faith in your fellow Phoenicians. Lakers hate reigns supreme, I guess.
We hadn’t really seen a major shootout from the Suns this year, but it was obvious right away New Orleans was bringing that type of game out of them.
A few Cam Johnson three-pointers later, the Pelicans headed to the second quarter with a 38-33 lead.
Transition defense again hurt the Suns to open the next period as Ball found E’Twaun Moore in the corner for another Pelicans three.
As the backup point guard with Ricky Rubio out, Elie Okobo got his first real chance at minutes. After finishing the Sacramento game for the Suns, Monty Williams went back to him early in this one and coached him heavily from the sidelines. You have to imagine defense generally is difficult for a player in Okobo’s situation, but especially as an off-ball piece of the Suns’ aggressive help scheme.
The youngster opened the game with five points and three assists in eight minutes and was on the court for a Suns run that narrowed New Orleans’ lead to 44-41.
The Suns had success when Okobo and Tyler Johnson ran pick-and-roll with Frank Kaminsky, but the big man couldn’t make shots or get calls for a long stretch to open the game. Kaminsky started 3-8 from the field but finally earned a trip to the line and brought the Suns within two, 51-49, with about seven minutes remaining in the half.
As the Pelicans cooled off from distance, the Suns crawled back. Oubre continued to get to the foul line, the Suns got some stops by rotating better on guys like Redick and Jrue Holiday, and Phoenix took a 59-57 lead with about three minutes left.
That was only after Tyler Johnson got involved inside again, getting smacked with a Brandon Ingram elbow that was called as a foul on Johnson.
Oubre hit a three on a kick-out from Booker to put the Suns up, 66-59, heading into halftime.
A flurry of Redick buckets seemed to get in the Suns’ head to start the second half, which led them to get outside their offense. After Tyler Johnson forced a tough mid-range jumper, Monty Williams called a timeout. New Orleans had fought back, 76-72.
When the Pelicans took the lead, it represented the ninth lead change of the game and the half only just began.
Ingram went to the bench with four fouls a bit later. His length and energy are always hard to officiate. That marked the point in the game in which both teams were on the same page about the referees. Anger from all sides.
Devin Booker and Alvin Gentry are commiserating over their frustration with the calls right now.— Brendon Kleen (@BrendonKleen14) November 22, 2019
You have to wonder whether part of the issue with the calls is that both teams are so small. The Suns definitely alter their defense when Kaminsky is on the court, sending less help toward the ball-handler and instead using Kaminsky to blitz the guard as he meets the screen. That requires more of a rotation on the back end. More motion equals more contact. Just a guess.
The Suns went with a unit featuring Okobo, Booker, Cam Johnson, Mikal Bridges and Cheick Diallo down five with 2:23 to go.
Booker checked out with 1:36 remaining, leaving Okobo on the court with Carter for a key stretch of the game. The Suns responded with this sequence:
- Getting Diallo a quick lob
- Creating a Frank Jackson turnover
- Drawing a loose-ball foul on Jackson when they were in the bonus
- Making both free-throws
- Forcing Moore into a midrange J (which he made)
- Preventing New Orleans from getting a shot off before the buzzer
After all that, the Suns went into the fourth down 95-94.
Ingram came back in to begin the fourth quarter. He wasn’t even the difference, though, as the Suns unraveled out of their usual offense once again with Booker and Tyler Johnson off the court.
After Carter passed up an open shot, Williams shouted, “PACE!” Carter took the shot right away, missed it, and the Pelicans responded with a basket in semi-transition. Timeout Williams.
Suns caught with an all-bench lineup in vs. Ingram and Holiday and got smoked 10-2 to start 4th. Timeout Suns, Oubre Kaminsky in.— John Hollinger (@johnhollinger) November 22, 2019
As if they saw Hollinger’s tweet, Kaminsky and Oubre scored the Suns’ next seven points to bring Phoenix within four, 107-103.
The real problem is that Booker was struggling and the Pelicans were getting hot from deep again. The Suns were a touch late on closeouts and flat-out lost guys a few times, leaving New Orleans open on too many looks. The Pelicans were 16-33 on threes after Moore made one to put the Suns up four.
With all the bigs struggling in this game (outside of Diallo), both teams went super small. Kenrich Williams was nominally the Pelicans’ center, with Oubre matched up on him. Williams’ incredible rebounding allows New Orleans to play so small (read more about that here), but the Suns aren’t used to that style.
The deficit was frozen at four for what felt like the entire fourth quarter.
Ingram iced it down the stretch for the Pelicans as coach Alvin Gentry went simple, isolating the former Laker in the post. Ingram went to work on Cam Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Mikal Bridges over the course of the period. No one could stop him.
The Suns were able to call a timeout with 0.2 seconds on the clock down three but couldn’t get a legitimate shot off and lost.