Both offenses, as expected, came out guns blazing. After a few simple transition plays courtesy of Dejounte Murray’s feisty defense, both teams settled in and got what they wanted in the halfcourt.
San Antonio’s screen game was working well, as the Suns had a hard time containing and rotating to take away what the Spurs wanted to do. LaMarcus Aldridge got free for a pick-and-pop three, DeMar DeRozan worked the spots few even want to go to anymore, and Devin Booker lost Bryn Forbes for a corner three.
Booker got a few back on the other end, including a deep pull-up three.
Monty Williams called a timeout with 6:48 to go in the first period with Phoenix down, 18-14. In an effort to stop the bleeding, Williams sent Mikal Bridges into the game. He tried to guard DeRozan but the veteran still got into the paint at will.
That’s also about the time the Suns stopped making shots. San Antonio went on a quick 6-2 run after that timeout.
Without Aron Baynes, the Suns turned to Cheick Diallo as the backup center. In his first offensive possession, he hit his signature free-throw line floater. As long as Diallo is scoring, he’s helping the team as well as he can.
The lineup really needed it, too. Diallo took the floor with Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr., Elie Okobo and Jevon Carter. Not a lot of juice.
Somehow, Phoenix closed the first on a 10-4 run of their own with that lineup on the floor to get within 2 points.
Both teams kept pace at the start of the second. Ricky Rubio playing this stretch with the bench players is so valuable to the Suns. Diallo consistently put pressure on the basket, Rubio found him often, and San Antonio was unable to build a lead before Phoenix’s starters returned.
Booker, Deandre Ayton and Dario Saric came back in around the 6:00 mark down 5.
The Suns couldn’t keep their hands on the ball when Murray was involved. With 2:35 left to go in the half, Gregg Popovich called a timeout, and Murray had four steals. It was too easy for the Spurs.
DJ locked in on the defensive end!— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 21, 2020
He's got three steals early in Phoenix. pic.twitter.com/j1nIQ7ciVS
It also didn’t help that Booker lost Forbes repeatedly. The Spurs’ starter was 7-8 from deep in the first half, with most of those open shots coming as a direct result of Booker getting lost. To be fair, chasing around a spot-up threat isn’t the best matchup for Booker (or any primary offensive option), but keeping track of Forbes is probably a top bullet point in the game plan for San Antonio, and the Suns absolutely failed to do it early on.
SEVEN threes in the first half.— Bleacher Report NBA (@BR_NBA) January 21, 2020
Bryn Forbes was on flamethrower mode ♨️ pic.twitter.com/LOZbg0uHKU
The Spurs opened the second half just like they ended the first — by out-executing the Suns. DeRozan and Aldridge each got to the free-throw line to start things off, giving San Antonio a quick 14-point lead.
However, Booker did a better job of sticking with Forbes, forcing a miss on a catch-and-shoot corner three. Most of the Spurs’ offense in the third period came from DeRozan going to work from two.
The Suns got into the penalty at the 6:16 mark thanks to some crafty gamesmanship from Booker. Even that didn’t matter much. Defensively, Phoenix just didn’t have enough to slow down the Spurs.
Despite a flurry from Booker, the Suns went into the fourth period down, 96-83.
San Antonio cooled down from deep in the third period, making just two triples, so perhaps a hot streak from Booker from downtown would be enough to keep the Suns in it.
Aggressive Rubio came out of the gates in the final frame. The starting point guard took four shots in the first five minutes of the period, making two. It’s tough to rely on his offense in big moments, but he also needs to take shots when they’re open. That’s something the Suns just have to deal with.
Fortunately for the home team, San Antonio finally missed some shots in the closing period. Marco Belinelli beat Rubio backdoor but missed a layup, and DeRozan stayed cold from the field when he checked in.
Ayton cut the lead to nine with two free throws at the 6:02 mark. 108-99.
The out-of-nowhere clutch Oubre got to the line for an and-1 after driving into Aldridge for a layup. That gave him sixth points in the fourth after just seven through the first 36 minutes of game time.
Another DeRozan miss followed by another Oubre layup off a cut brought the Suns within four, 108-104.
With DeRozan guarding Rubio, the Suns attacked the Spurs veteran in the pick and roll with a simple high screen for the Spaniard by Ayton. San Antonio had no answer.
The big man got to the line again to tie it at 108 with four minutes to go.
The battle of free throws continued as DeRozan hit two more. Booker responded with a layup, then Rubio hit another jumper and nailed the and-1 foul shot to give the Suns a two-point lead.
Forbes hit his first triple of the second half when it mattered most to put San Antonio back up by one. The Suns did a better job of containing him, but this one came right in Ayton’s face off a switch. Tough. White followed up with a deep pull-up of his own to give San Antonio a four-point lead.
The crunch time demons against the Spurs followed the Suns to Phoenix from Mexico City (though to be fair, they’ve been there for like 20 years).
Two more free throws for Ayton made it 117-115, Spurs leading. He missed a mid-range jumper that would have tied the game a moment later, then fouled Aldridge to prevent a dunk. Going to the fadeaway jumper in a huge spot like that symbolizes Ayton’s continued learning process. Despite his dominance throughout the game, winning with a super young big man is hard.
Oubre fouled out on an iffy charge with 38 seconds to go. Suns coaches chose not to challenge with the Suns down four.
San Antonio botched the inbounds pass to clinch the game, then fouled Rubio on the loose ball. Popovich challenged, but to no avail.
Take it from the beat reporter:
This is bananas.— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) January 21, 2020
Rubio couldn’t finish it off, as he missed the first free throw. The Suns then fouled Aldridge on the inbounds pass — Ayton’s fifth foul. Aldridge missed the first free throw as well.
Timeout Suns (likely why they did not challenge the call on Oubre’s sixth foul) with 5.6 seconds remaining. You can probably guess who the ball went to.
Booker tried a long three but missed off the back iron.