For only the fifth time all year, covering 75 games played, the Phoenix Suns have lost two games in a row. Unfortunately, these latest losses have come at the worst possible time.
Now the Lakers only need two more wins in the next four games to send the Suns home for the summer, and just about everybody who watched those last two games would agree that the Lakers are very likely to do just that.
Here is what Phoenix Suns starting shooting guard Devin Booker, starting center Deandre Ayton and backup point guard Cameron Payne said after their team’s 109-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 3 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs at Staples Center on Thursday night.
You can find all of Monty Williams’ and Chris Paul’s quotes here:
On terrible shooting
The Suns have scored only 99, 102 and 95 points in the three games against the Lakers top-ranked defense. That’s the lowest scoring output for the Suns (51-21 regular season, 1-2 postseason) over three games all season, and the lowest three-game output in two years.
Jae Crowder, a 39% 3P shooter, is 2 of 20 (10%) in the series, Devin Booker, usually 36%, is 4-14 (30%) and the team as a whole is shooting worse on threes (33% vs. 38%) and launching fewer of them (27.7 per game vs. 34.6).
But it’s not only from long range that the Suns have struggled. They scored only 35 total points in the middle two quarters on Thursday night. If you take Deandre Ayton’s 11 for 15 shooting out of the mix, the other eight players who took the floor for the Suns in Game 3 made only 24 of 67 shots (35.8%) for the game.
It appeared the lack of offense eventually impacted their defense (they gave up 66 second-half points after holding the Lakers to 43 in the first half) but the players did not agree.
“Offensively, that’s not our problem,” Booker said later. “I think our offense always starts when we guard, when we defend better. And I have to look back and watch the film but just thinking right out the third quarter when they got it going, if we’re taking the ball out the net every play, it’s tougher to get out in transition and get to our advantages.”
Deandre Ayton, who is feasting in this series as the only player exceeding expectations after three games, felt like the Suns got good looks anyway but just couldn’t knock them down.
“Yes,” Ayton said afterward, trying to put a positive spin on the game. “One thing with us, there was no deflation on our misses. We were glad with what we were getting, the defense was giving us, we were taking advantage of it. And shots wasn’t just falling, so we just got to really rely on our defense to create our offense. And tonight wasn’t the night where we really relied on our shooting.”
The Lakers have the league’s No. 1 defense, and have sold out their schemes in this series to stop Devin Booker from running the offense while leaving the hobbled, non-shooting Chris Paul and shooting-but-missing Jae Crowder largely unguarded.
Despite how Booker is being guarded, he takes responsibility for running the show while Chris Paul is laboring.
“I just think I have to take the load off a little bit, while he’s out there,” Booker said of Paul. “Just take the pressure off him a little bit, get him some clean looks. He hit some early that got us going, but take over the creating role for him a little bit.”
“We missed a lot of shots tonight,” Payne said. “A lot of shots that we normally make.”
On bad third quarters
For the second game in a row, the Suns came out of halftime taking a punch from the Lakers without responding until they were down 15+ points.
“I think they come out ultra-aggressive,” Booker said. “I think LeBron got downhill a couple times to start the quarter, he got some easy ones around the rim. So I just think we have to protect our paint.”
Backup point guard Cameron Payne had a lot more to say about the third quarter start because he was able to watch the meltdown from the sidelines just like us. He said he felt the Suns poise waver as they were outscored 24-11 to start the third quarter.
“I just feel like we got to stay locked in as a group through the ups and downs, through the adversity,” Payne said. “We’re on the road, and for the most part, I feel like we always do good on the road because we’re such a tight-knit team. So being on the road never really affected us because of how close we are off the court. So on the court, we always talking. It feels like we always fine because you look up at the score, ‘It’s like, we always got an opportunity. We still in the game.’
“But I kind of feel like our poise kind of wavered a little bit tonight, and we got to get back to the meat and potatoes of our team. We just got to get back to us. Also, we missed a lot of shots tonight. We missed a lot of shots that we normally knock down and I feel like we just got to be more aggressive. Play Phoenix Suns basketball for a whole 48 minutes.”
On getting killed in the paint
In the last two games, the Suns have been out-rebounded by an average of 15 boards per game. No one besides Ayton is pulling down more than 4.5 per game.
On Thursday, they also gave up a gobton of points in the paint: the Lakers had 58 points in the paint to the Suns 38 in game 3.
“I think we just have to be ready for it,” Booker said. “We’re three games in now, we have a lot of film to go over and look after. But I think we got out-rebounded by 14, 15 rebounds tonight, which is tough. So like I said, it’s just back to protecting our paint, and I think that’s where a lot of their points are generated and a lot of their offense goes through.”
Deandre Ayton (averaging 12.5 rebounds per game this series) has some positive words for his teammates.
“Definitely keep crashing the glass,” he said of adjustments in rebounding. “Keep attacking it. Our guys, we got like sizes to help me down there. Just keep doing that, and I think we got beat on the boards today, that was a big part of it too. Just next game, just maintaining physicality and attacking the glass every time, helping your friend out, helping your teammate out.”
Keys to winning game 4 on Sunday
Deandre Ayton: “I mean, it’s a big opportunity that we’re in the playoffs and we showed that the work that we’ve all put in, the stuff that we’ve went through, the adversity that we’ve went over, it brought us here. Now, it’s just time to really just maintain and just play the best basketball we can play at the highest level. Not really look at lineups and what teams throw at us, but just playing, doing what we do is what helped us get here. Simple as that.”
Cam Payne: “One, get a lot of rest, get a lot of treatment. It’d be great to have [Paul] back at 100 percent. I know we don’t speak a lot about that, but I wish he was out there. I feel like we’ll look a lot better. But you know, we’re fighting and clawing. But these two days are big, they’re huge. Get to watch a lot of film, figure out what we got to do to come back to win Game 4 so we can go back to the crib (Phoenix Suns Arena) and get Game 5. So it’s going to be a big two days, but it’s going to be a great two days. Time off is good, we need [Paul] back. We need him back, we could use him. But time off is good, so to regroup and look at our mistakes, get our legs back under us. Just come out fresh for Game 4.”
Devin Booker: “Win the next game, would put us in a better position. And that’s that, that’s one game, we’re down 2-1 now and we move on to Sunday.”
Players of the game
Here are more quotes from Ayton and Payne, the Suns best players on Thursday night, on the Game Three loss and the playoffs on the whole.
- 22 points on 11-15 shooting, 11 rebounds (4 offensive, 7 defensive), 1 steal, 2 blocks
On how important it will be for the Suns to keep their composure after Crowder and Booker were ejected in the final minute:
“It’s the playoffs. I don’t really know too much about it, but I know being poised throughout this series is key and taking our time. And just sticking together, especially when games like this get lit and amped up. We just have to maintain discipline and just play the basketball we know.”
If his postseason experience has been like he expected:
“I would say this is what I really expected, especially on a physical aspect. Guys playing longer minutes than normal, playing throughout the whole game, might not even get a break. But it’s the type of basketball I’ve been waiting for to be honest. I’ve been training for this for (inaudible) years, so I got to take advantage.”
- 15 points on 6-11 shooting, 6 assists, 4 steals
On the Suns’ fourth-quarter run to cut the lead to single digits:
“That’s our culture. We’re going to go down swinging, no matter what. We always feel like we got a chance. It’s always a lot of time in the game left, so we’re always going to keep fighting until it’s 0.0 on the clock.”
On how chippy the game got in the fourth quarter:
“It got pretty chippy. Honestly, it’s chippy. It’s the playoffs, but it’s just Game 3. We got to try our best to keep our poise, but I always got my brothers’ back. Honestly, that’s how the whistle went. That’s how I’m going to roll with that.”
On two Lakers fans who were talking to him during the game and how much he enjoys the road environment in the postseason:
“I kind of felt like it got me going. Sometimes, I like that, I like it. Because I talk about it all the time, I put the work in, so I love it. Sometimes, you need that. Sometimes, I need it, I ain’t got the energy all the time but it got me going. I mean, the atmosphere was crazy, it was fun. I’m glad they had fans in there, it made the game better. It was cool.”