Losing to the Los Angeles Lakers is never fun. There are silver linings in the Phoenix Suns’ loss on Thursday night, however, as despite being without Devin Booker and Bradley Beal the team lost by just five points, 100-95. Just five?! Yeah. Just five. Being without two players who combined to average 51 points per game is no easy task to overcome, especially with a roster with 13 new faces.
There’s an old adage that there are no moral victories. I disagree. Moral victories do exist, especially early in a season in which the general manager has completely flipped the roster. The first 20 games of the season will be rocky as this team learns who they are and how to play together. In training camp days of yore, a basketball team would do two-a-days for a month to increase conditioning and fortify chemistry. It just isn’t that way anymore.
While the loss in the City of Angels is a blemish on the Suns’ record, the lessons learned can be used to push this team forward, and equate to actual victories later in the season.
Thumbs Up: You know who he is
He’s Kevin Durant!
It was a vintage Kevin Durant performance as he scored 39 points on 12-of-24 shooting. The offensive load fell upon his shoulders and he embraced the burden. Attacking the cylinder, shooting mid-range, jump shots, and knocking down three-pointers; it was a complete Durant performance.
He played 39 minutes, which is not optimal, and that is primarily due to the lack of cohesion and scoring ability of his teammates, most notably in the fourth quarter. I’ll get to that here in a minute. His efficiency was marred by his 4-of-11 shooting in the final quarter – he was 8-of-13 entering – but he did all he could to carry the Suns.
It was a special performance.
Thumbs Down: The Q4 Suns
The fourth was putrid. With four minutes left in the game, the Suns had scored only three points in the quarter. Phoenix entered the fourth with an 84-72 lead, but they started 1-of-15 from the field and their lead vanished into the night.
Overall they shot 5-of-20 from the field and 1-of-8 from beyond the arc. Add 8 turnovers to the mix, and the Lakers outscored them 28-11 to close the game. They shot only one free throw as they didn’t force the issue, whereas the Lakers were 12-of-13 from the charity stripe, and they allowed the Lakers to mount a spirited comeback.
Credit to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who allowed Kevin Durant to get his while in turn exhausting himself throughout the game, waiting till it was 87-87 to strike. They closed the game on a 13 to 7 run.
KD had nine of the Suns' measly 11 points in Q4. Due to his teammate's inability to stop the Lakers and put the ball in the basket, Frank Vogel was forced to bring him in with 9:28 left in the game. Not exactly what you want.
Obviously moving forward Durrant will have assistance in either Booker or Beal. It would be great if he had both! Their ability to generate their own shot, while simultaneously creating opportunities for others is invaluable. We witnessed that on Thursday night.
Thumbs Down: Turnover City, USA
Population: The Suns.
What killed the Suns in this game, outside of the aforementioned woes in the fourth, was the turnovers. For the second consecutive game, Phoenix could not control the ball. Despite his greatness as a scorer, Kevin Durant was the primary culprit with eight giveaways.
His teammates helped him in that capacity, however, as they had the other 16. The 24 turnovers led to 29 Lakers points. The team scored 100! You can’t turn the ball over at that rate, especially when you’re down two of your primary scoring options. Perhaps this is a sign of the lack of chemistry this team possesses. Players are cutting when they should be stationary, leading to passes aimlessly thrown out of bounds. The unforced turnovers must be addressed.
Through two games the Suns average a league-high 21.5 turnovers per game and have a 20.9% turnover ratio. This must improve.
Thumbs Up: Jordan Goodwin
Goodwin was given a runway against the Lakers due to Booker in Beal being out. Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon filled in as the backup backcourt, but with them being forced into the starting lineup, Goodwin was provided an opportunity to garner minutes.
He took advantage of it.
Pesky as always on defense, we witnessed his affinity for the floating jumper. In his 30 minutes played, he scored 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting. It feels weird to say this already, so perhaps I shouldn’t. Oh hell, why not? I already believe that he’s better than Cameron Payne. He has a higher upside, he’s a more tactful defender, he’s less herky-jerky, and more in control on both ends of the floor. It was a bright spot and nice to see.
The Suns coaching staff will certainly utilize the tape in an opportunity to grow and evolve. We hope that nights like Thursday were the exception rather than the rule and that the players who make up the majority of your payroll are healthy enough to play. Frank Vogel now has on film numerous minutes and roster combinations to analyze, assess, and forfity. A five-point loss in October could provide a blueprint for how to win a game in April.
What did you see? Where are you putting your thumbs? Let me know below.