PHOENIX — It had been awhile, almost a lifetime ago. Well not quite that long, more like 217 days ago to be exact.
But for the first time since a season-ending 118-98 drubbing at the hands of the Denver Nuggets back on April 17, the Phoenix Suns played more or less three-and-a-half quarters of flat, uninspired basketball. Outside of impressive first halves from Goran Dragic (scored team’s first 11 points) and Gerald Green (20 points on 5-of-6 from three-point range) and a late 13-2 run, there was little to like about the effort Jeff Hornacek’s squad put forth on the U.S. Airways Center court Wednesday night.
There was no life on the fast break, no execution in the half court, no response to adversity, and consequently no fourth quarter lead or any semblance of a close contest down the stretch.
Behind 17 turnovers forced and 18 second-chance points, the Sacramento Kings swept their home-and-home series with the Suns, taking the back end by a final of 113-106.
Four Kings scored in double figures, as Mike Malone’s squad recorded its first three-game win streak of the season and fourth straight win overall against Phoenix.
“Tonight was the first night that we probably didn’t have the effort,” Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek said. “I don’t know, they outhustled us on most things, especially early on in the game with the rebounding. I told the guys after the game that the two games we played those guys, of the 50-50 balls I don’t think we got to a single one.
“We were a step slow for balls, not tough enough. We let them do what they wanted.”
How’d the game answer the pregame questions?
How strong is Phoenix’s short-term memory?
On this night, it wasn’t necessarily about memory as much as it was about energy. Without Eric Bledsoe (left shin contusion) in the lineup, the Suns were in dire need of a third scorer to carry the load alongside Dragic, who poured in a season-high 31 points, and Green — a search that proved futile.
Marcus Morris added 13 off the bench, but complimentary pieces like Markieff Morris, Channing Frye and P.J. Tucker scored a combined 14 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
That lack of offensive production combined with a .70 assist/turnover ratio and a lack of desire on the boards turned a very winnable contest into a game of catch up.
While the last three losses by a combined six points hurt, this one might linger a little longer. Phoenix simply was outclassed and outworked on its own floor, and it didn’t have anything to do with a lack of talent, depth or a youthful roster.
Who will close?
Nobody. That question was basically put to bed by Phoenix’s 12-point third quarter — a frame in which it hit just four field goals and turned the ball over six times.
After Dragic and Green – combined for 33 first-half points — essentially willed them to within five at the break, the Suns made their efforts rather obsolete, turning in arguably their worst quarter of basketball at home this season.
When it was all said and done, Sacramento held a 12-point advantage and never was really threatened the rest of the contest.
The Suns whittled the lead down to six with under five minutes to play behind a 44-point fourth quarter, but that’s as close as it would get.
Can ‘Boogie’ Cousins be corralled?
The short answer was no. The longer answer was at times, but not consistently enough.
While Cousins wasn’t as physically dominant (27 points and 12 rebounds) as he was in the front end of the teams’ home-and-home series, he had no problem asserting himself in the paint and on the glass when necessary. After a few early ineffective minutes against Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee and the occasional double team, Cousins found a way to make an impact.
It didn’t necessarily come from the field (4-of-14) per say, but the former No. 5 overall pick attacked the basket, got to the foul line (15 attempts) and made the Suns pay on second-chance opportunities.
In all, Cousins finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds — his fourth consecutive double-double against Phoenix.