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Recap: Booker’s late-game magic not enough as Suns’ comeback comes up short

Suns lose their second in a row after Morant 1-ups Booker’s late-game heroics.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Suns came back from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies (21-14) came up on top after some late-game fireworks by both squads. Suns lose 113-114, fall to 26-7, and suffer their first consecutive losses since the first week of the season when they were 1-3.


First Half:

With Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder out for this game — and likely a few more as well — in health and safety protocol, the seas parted for Jalen Smith to make an impact. He didn’t take that opportunity lightly, becoming the first Sun to reach double figures in the game and finished the half with 10 points (3-7 shooting), 3 rebounds, and one steal in the half.

Coming off a 26-point outing a night earlier, Desmond Bane posed the biggest threat to score coming in, and he did just that. Bane finished the half with 19 points (7-11 shooting), 4 rebounds, 2 assists, one steal, and one assist, and was a +15 in getting Memphis a 60-48 lead at the break.

The Suns struggled to rebound against the Grizzlies, especially when Memphis ran lineups that included all three of Jaren Jackson Jr., Steven Adams, and Brandon Clarke, who combined for 11 first half rebounds. John Konchar, starting in place of Dillon Brooks in the Covid protocol, added six, and helped lead Memphis to a 28-16 team rebounding advantage at the half. Chris Paul led the Suns in that category with 5 first half boards, already surpassing his season average.


Second Half:

It became clear to any remaining doubters (myself included) in the second half just how important having a backline defender like Ayton can really be. Suns had a hard time defending and rebounding to any meaningful level. At no point was it more emphatically clear than when Smith got posterized by Memphis backup stretch big Killian Tillie, who’s not known to posterize.

By the end of the third quarter, Booker scored 23 points in 29 minutes, bouncing back well from the rough night he had on Christmas, but he also earned himself a technical foul in the third frame, complaining about a no-call. Suns made negative ground on their deficit in the third, going into the fourth down 14.

Early in the fourth, the Suns got two straight three’s to go from Cam Johnson then Cam Payne in response to a deep three from Bane to force a timeout from Memphis since Phoenix had cut the deficit to 8 with 9:30 remaining. That shot from Johnson got him to double figures for the 12th straight game, and extended his league-leading streak of 2+ three’s in a game to 15 games.

Another Johnson three at the 7:16 mark cut the deficit to just 3 and the comeback was in full force, forcing another Memphis timeout. The Suns had opened up the fourth quarter on a 15-4 run.

All within the last four minutes, we had JaVale McGee tangled up with Adams and the two exchanging words, we had Johnson and Bane throwing haymakers back and forth, and a replay to determine a 24-second violation. Suns got the ball down 2 with 8 seconds left, Booker got a wide open look from well behind the top of the key, and $$$.

In taking the shot as early as he did, Booker left 5 seconds on the clock, which was enough time for Morant to get a circus shot up over two defenders to take a 114-113 lead with 0.5 seconds remaining.

With 0.5 seconds left, we got a shot from Mikal Bridges on the baseline at the buzzer, but it hit nothing but air. Suns lose 114-113 in a real close one.


Takeaways:

  • Booker bounced back well overall, scoring 30 points (10-20 shooting) and dishing out 4 assists, and made an impact defensively with 2 steals and 2 blocks. His clutch three will not be forgotten.
  • Phoenix hadn’t faced a backcourt this potent and playing this hot all season. For one of the first nights during his Suns career, Paul looked his age for stretches, tasked with following Bane around off the ball defensively. The two of Bane and Morant combined for 65 points on 26-47 shooting.
  • If it wasn’t clear before, Ayton deserves the full max. His defense and rebounding are too valuable against other good teams.
  • Payne had 0 turnovers in his 24 minutes; it was only the fourth game in the last 12 that he had fewer than 3.

Up Next:

On Wednesday, Phoenix (26-7) will host Oklahoma City (12-20, with a game against Sacramento on Tuesday) with a good opportunity to get themselves more organized with their shorthanded rotation against an inferior team who’s also on the second game of a back-to-back.