If you tuned in to watch the Phoenix Suns take on the Memphis Grizzlies on MLK Day Monday night, you were treated to a tough, spirited effort from the Suns...in the first half. The second half was among the worst you could have expected from even the injury-depleted Suns. After a good first quarter propelled the Suns into competitive position at halftime, the Phoenix squad got shellacked in the the third frame and just threw in the towel on the fourth quarter. The result was the most points the Suns have given up all season and the most lopsided loss they’ve suffered this year, eclipsing the previous low point of when they fell to the Nuggets by 29 on Jan. 11.
The Suns came out hot showcasing pretty good ball movement and a fairly high level of energy, winning the first quarter and putting up a surprising 36 points against the NBA’s top defense. That advantage cooled a bit in the second frame, and especially when Deandre Ayton headed to the bench the Suns struggled to prevent the Grizzlies ballhandlers from penetrating deep into the paint on possession after possession.
Credit to the Suns for shooting well, but I thought the Grizzlies were also uncharacteristically undisciplined on defense quite a bit, repeatedly being late to rotate and slow to close out on shooters, giving a lot of quality looks to Josh Okogie and Damion Lee and Okogie espcially was making them pay.
I’d certainly be remiss in not mentioning Mikal Bridges’ early contribution, as he entered the half 5/5 from the field for 12 points with 5 assists. He may have read some of my comments on his shot creation ability, too, because he actually showcased at least a little bit of that too.
Ja Morant was feeling it for the Grizzlies, though, and was a major part of why the second quarter turned around for them. It seemed like everything Memphis’ star point guard put up was going in, whether it was a deep pullup three or an awkward high-arcing midranger.
The Suns also had a tough time keeping the Grizzlies off the offensive glass, which is partially just a product of Steven Adams’ presence for Memphis. The veteran center has consistently been among the top offensive rebounders in the league for several years, and his presence was obvious in this one as he grabbed 5 of Memphis’ 7 first half offensive boards.
Ayton had 12 points to join Bridges in pacing the Suns, and Okogie had 9 points headed to the locker room. The Suns trailed 65-68 at the midway point.
The third quarter saw the Grizzlies assert themselves, with disastrous results for the Suns. A sequence of just about three minutes saw the Grizzlies turn a 2 point lead into an 18 point advantage, including an especially frustrating play in which Jaren Jackson Jr. rebounded his own missed free throw and layed it home for another two points.
From there Memphis basically just buried the Suns, and Morant was little short of spectacular scoring the ball as the Suns had no answer for his explosive and persistent drives to the bucket, as he even successfully absorbed heavy contact at the rim from Ayton and finished for the and-1. By the end of the third he had 29 points on 11/20 shooting, and the Suns were down 88-107.
That was pretty much where the game ended, Suns fans. Coach Monty Williams went with the bench lineup to open the fourth quarter, which was partially a gesture of surrender but also likely just a pragmatic decision as Ayton and Bridges had already played 30 minutes. They didn’t reenter the game.
I won’t say the Suns stopped competing at this point, but...well, I actually can’t think of a way to finish that sentence honestly. The game became a full on rout, and all that was left to do was await the final horn as both sides let the benches close it out.
You can point to any of number of reasons for this loss, including a significant rebounding discrepancy (52-37 in Memphis) favor, but this reasonably healthy Grizzlies squad was just far better than the injury-decimated Suns, and the contest felt more like watching a 2017 Suns game than one from the past couple of seasons.
The Grizzlies improved to 30-13, the Suns fell to 21-24.
Up next for the the Suns is a home tilt Thursday against the Brooklyn Nets.