Basketball is back, baby! Incredible shot-making. Exquisite passing. Dominating wins. Nail biters. Confounding losses. The ups, and the downs, the smiles, frowns. One week into the regular season, the Phoenix Suns have already gone through each of the aforementioned scenarios.
On Halloween, Phoenix experienced their first gut-punch loss of the season. You know, one of those games where you walk away feeling like someone Leonidas kicked you right in the midsection? It happens to every team. Somehow, some way they let one slip away that they easily could have won. There are numerous reasons as to why, from poor shotmaking to a bad stretch of second team minutes, from an opposing team getting hot to a missed call.
For the Suns, all of this occurred against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, a night we could’ve used a victory. The Arizona Diamondbacks were throttled in the World Series by the Texas Rangers, just blocks away from the Footprint Center. The city and the state needed a feel-good moment, but everyone who left downtown last night did so with a pocket full of disappointment.
Phoenix, who were up 20 points, appeared to be cruising to a victory. But spooky things happen on Halloween and it was not in the cards. I probably shouldn’t say “cards”, because the Arizona Cardinals are 1-7. Oy.
You can put your finger towards numerous factors as to why they lost 115-114 last night.
The Suns’ fourth-quarter performance was once again lackadaisical and ball movement became isolation. Credit Greg Popovich for switching to a zone defense and disrupting Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen as primary playmakers. The strategy paid off and bought the Spurs extra possessions off of turnovers. Just enough to get them a lead with 1.2 seconds left, their only lead of the game.
In their two losses this season the Suns have been outscored 61-30 in the fourth quarter.— John Voita (@DarthVoita) November 1, 2023
They've committed 13 turnovers which has led to 14 opposing points. They're shooting 12-of-40 (30%) from the field and 3-of-18 from deep (16.6%).
You can point out that the Spurs caught fire from being on the arc in the second half. After shooting 5-of-17 (29.4%) in the first half, San Antonio did not shy away from the three-point shot. The team went 9-of-20 (45%) in the second half, including 7-of-12 (58.3%) in the third.
With a presence like Victor Wembanyama on the interior, Phoenix chose to shade their, defenders his way rather than focus on guarding the perimeter. The Spurs made the Suns pay. Of their 37 three-point attempts, 19 were classified as “wide open”, which means a defender wasn’t within six feet of them.
And of course, there is the officiating. You never want to put yourself in a situation in which the officials could determine the outcome of a game. Unfortunately, that’s what the Suns did by losing the lead and the call that determined the game didn’t go their way because there was no call at all.
Following a poor box out and an offensive rebound that led to an easy two points by Wemby, Phoenix inbounded the ball to Kevin Durant. He was fouled by Tre Jones upon receiving the ball and was fouled again when Jones swiped for the ball, cutting Kevin Durant’s face open. No whistle, Keldon Johnson stole the ball and scored the deciding points in the game.
An unfortunate turn of events.
Some put it on Frank Vogel for not calling a timeout to reset and to allow the team to take it out from half court. The “what if” game is easier to explore after a loss, but as Frank Vogel stated after the game, “In a situation like that we try to get the ball in a quick inbounds to our 90% free throw shooter and we did. It didn’t work out”.
It happens, and while it frustrates in the moment, it will be corrected on a long enough timeline. There will be a call missed in the Suns’ favor at some point this season. Was it a gut punch? Sure. But it shouldn’t know the wind out of you.