Without Ayton in the lineup for the ninth consecutive game, the Phoenix Suns fall to the large, looming Los Angeles Lakers in this renewed Pacific Conference rivalry. A game they could have/should have won.
While watching the Phoenix Suns‘ Tuesday night’s halftime show featuring the sturdy-necked Serge & Sasha, I half expected the headline to read something like this:
Tragedy struck the Valley tonight when a man, while balancing a woman upside down on his head as she twirled a baton with her feet, attempted to climb a ladder during the Suns/Lakers halftime show at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Good news: that was not the headline.
Bad news: The Phoenix Suns lost a game to their Pacific Division rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers in a game they could have won.
The Suns came out strong in the first quarter, leading the Lakers by 9 in the first before the Lakers made a late run, led by Kyle Kuzma’s 13 first quarter points, to close the quarter down only three.
While James clearly was coasting most of the game, playing more of the facilitator roll he has embraced this year—leading the league with over 11 assists per game—he was still too much for Oubre to handle.
Look, the Lakers are a monstrous team. They start McGee, Davis and James in the front court with Dwight Howard coming off the bench. Danny Green and Avery Bradley, two dogged defenders, round out the back court. They are a large, defensive minded team and it has led them to an 8-2 start to the season.
Still, the Suns held tough and the game was closer than the 123-115 score would indicate.
But what is evident is that the Suns really missed Ayton. With a team this big, it is hard to get a win with Aron Baynes—as good as he has been playing—as the only passable center.
Make no mistake, on most nights, Baynes in and of himself is enough. He plays solid defense and rebounds and continues to stretch the floor, hitting 4-out-of-6 from deep. Even more than that, he is a sneaky-good backdoor passer, hitting more than one baseline cutter for an easy layup, the highlight coming with 2:13 left in the third to Booker. Booker flubbed the pass at first, gathered himself, and made a nice reverse and drawing the foul.
The third quarter, however, would be the Phoenix Suns’ downfall.
They only lost the quarter by one point, but it was the combined 17 points by McGee and Bradley to start the quarter that did them in. That and the baiting of two off-ball offensive fouls on Booker by the follicle-challenged but fan favorite, Alex Caruso.
Booker had a rough night by his standards. He shot the ball well, even though he missed his only two 3-point attempts of the game. It was the foul trouble that did him in. It seemed to keep him from being more aggressive.
Thankfully there was no tragedy in this game. All in all, the Suns continue to play well, making the extra pass and holding the front line as a team. It is a drastic change from years past, when they would devolve into one-on-one play-making, and finger-pointing.
The Lakers are one of—if not the—top teams in the league right now. Tuesday night will go down as only a slight bummer and the ongoing thought of another Ayton-what-if.
Next up are the 4-6 Atlanta Hawks, featuring future member of the 50-50-90 club, Trae Young. Expect the Valley Boyz to bounce back with vengeance.