You don’t like to use the phrase, “must win” during the regular season, especially when your team enters with a game lead for the fourth seed. But knowing that the schedule that lies ahead for the Phoenix Suns, which Tankathon currently has ranked as the sixth hardest in the NBA, it felt like a must win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.
The Suns continued their road trip in the City of Angels, playing a LeBron-less Lakers team, and left with a loss.
I’ll start the recap with what we already know but what we should continue to appreciate: These 90s throwback classic edition uniforms are so clean.
Rather than start Malik Beasley, Lakers’ coach Darvin Ham chose to go with the hot hand in Austin Reaves. He’s been a crowd favorite in Los Angeles and, considering his ability to draw contact and the Suns reputation for contact, it made sense that he received the start. He scored 35 points in a victory against the Orlando Magic over the weekend.
Reaves was attacking early and scored 8 of the Lakers first 17 points. “MVP” chants echoed throughout Crytpo.com Arena as he was on the line, a theme you’ll hear throughout this one. Reaves scored 13 first half points to lead all scorers.
Monty Williams did something we haven’t seen him do thus far this season: he substituted T.J. Warren early in the game, being the first to come off his bench that didn’t involve fouls (Bismack Biyombo had to leave early with two fouls).
Early T.J. Warren minutes & there's a clear sense of urgency in his efforts, particularly on the defensive end— Stephen PridGeon ☯️ (@StayTrueSDot3) March 23, 2023
It was a troublesome start for Cameron Payne, who was 0-for-2 from the field in the first, had an offensive foul, and committed a turnover. We know how it goes with CP15. He’s a confidence guy. If the confidence ain’t there, he typically can’t get out of the funk. He responded by scoring the final two points of the first quarter.
Suns 26, Lakers 23.
The second team unit, with Chris Paul at the helm, opened the second quarter cold, shooting 0-for-6. They didn’t score for the first two-and-a-half minutes. Not good.
After a protracted absence, Landry Shamet’s return has been smooth. In the second quarter, he started making threes thanks to his rapid release and high level of confidence. In the first half, he made 3-of-5 shots from behind the arc, so it’s terrific to see him back. He adds a flame-throwing mindset in addition to hustling on defense and appears to be very focused so far after two games.
Monty Williams said before the game that Phoenix needs to simply stop fouling. The Lakers are the top team in the NBA drawing fouls, and getting to the line, so you knew it was gonna be a challenge all night. The first half followed that script.
“That’s the 15th foul for the Suns…Lakers will be shooting for the rest of the half.” #Suns -Mark Jones— Suns Geek (@sunsgeek) March 23, 2023
The Lakers attempted a total of 27 free throws in the first half, making 20, as they continually attacked the cylinder and put the Suns in foul trouble. Chris Paul had to exit the game with three fouls with over six minutes left in the second quarter.
Los Angeles put together a 12-0 run, primarily scoring from the line, to extend their lead to 10 points. It was a choppy run as whistles slow the game down and prevent offensive rhythm for the team not at the line. The Suns attempted 10 free throws in the half.
Despite the free throw fest, the Suns managed to keep their head afloat, only being down 7 at the half. Booker was 3-of-6 from the field with 8 points, CP3 has 9 points in 13 minutes, and Landry had 9 off the bench. For the Lakers, Anthony Davis only had 7 points and 4 rebounds.
Lakers 59, Suns 52.
Raise your hand if you’re surprised that the Suns are still fouling even tough Monty said “we need to stop fouling”. pic.twitter.com/xGoPOdPr2C— Suns JAM Session Podcast (@SunsJAM) March 23, 2023
Phoenix continued to run in quicksand in the second half as turnovers and offensive fouls allowed the Lakers to push their lead to 12 points. When the whistles aren't going your way, everything feels like it’s compounding.
Devin Booker, who was blatantly slapped on the arm by D’Angelo Russell in the first half (no call), was conked in the head by Jarred Vanderbilt. Monty had to use his challenge simply to get the right call.
Just one of them nights, baby.
In a game where the Lakers shot 27 free throws in the first half they called a foul on Book for getting hit in the face by Vanderbilt and forced the Suns to use their challenge.— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) March 23, 2023
Anthony Davis began to come to life in the third. The Suns couldn't counter; both Bismack and Jock Landale were saddled with 3 fouls each, What does that mean? Feed AD on the interior and laugh as anyone attempts to challenge him.
Devin Booker began taking things into his own hands, for once Vanderbilt was hit with his fourth foul, things began to open up. He went 5-of-6 in the third and scored 14 points in the quarter to help Phoenix close the deficit. They finished the quarter on an 8-2 run.
Los Angeles shot 4 free throws in the third. Lakers 88, Suns 85.
Monty started Booker — who played all 12 minutes in the third — with the second team unit to start the fourth, and he continued to be a dead-eye shooter. The Suns were down 5 with 8 minutes left when Booker sat on the bench. The minutes without him on the floor would be vital to the outcome of the game.
Phoenix responded with a quick 4-0 run that prompted the Lakers to reassess their strategy. The Lakers countered with a 7-0 run. Booker back in.
The Lakers began attacking the cylinder again with Reaves, and the whistles began putting Los Angeles back on the line. Chris Paul picked up his fifth with 4:52 left in the game on a Reaves drive, and his free throws pushed the lead to 9.
Phoenix couldn’t close the gap, as Los Angeles set a season-high mark in free throw attempts with . the Suns committed their second most fouls with 30 and allowed their most free attempts on the year. So much for listening to Monty’s “no more fouls” speech.
Anthony Davis scored 27 points, D Lo added 26, and Austin reaves had 25. Booker had 33, but only Chris Paul (18), Landry Shamet (15), and Torrey Craig (14) were in double figures for the Suns.
The Suns have now lost five of their last six games.