Phoenix Suns knee-jerk: reactions from 2 tough OTs

First, I’m not hearing it, Phoenix Suns fans.

The lead was three with 12 seconds remaining. When the clock reaches seven or six seconds, up three? You foul.

“Well, what if they know it and they try to shoot? Then you give them three free throws.” Not likely. At least not likely enough.

Rush to them. Foul them. Worst case? It’ll be fine. You’re up 98-87 with five seconds left.

OK, that philosophical rant is done. Debate among yourselves.

Now, let’s look at why the Phoenix Suns were able to compete with the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

With Devin Booker out, the Suns inserted Jae Crowder back into the starting lineup. Crowder had been replaced by Cam Johnson the prior two games, and combined with Chris Paul for the needed boost in Booker’s absence.

It wasn’t luck that brought the Suns to the double-overtime brink of victory. They hit only 16 of their 53 3-point tries. Fifty-three 3-point tries.

(The Nuggets hit 15 of 36.)

Crowder, a career 34 percent shooter from 3-point range, hit 6 of 13 from long range and contributed seven rebounds and three assists.

Paul, meanwhile, was every bit the future Hall of Famer the Suns expected when they acquired him — and his $41 million hit for 2020-21.

He had 21 points, 13 assists and a big nine rebounds. His in-and-out runner in the lane with 1:45 left in the first overtime was a heartbreaker.

Then Deandre Ayton fouled out and Frank Kaminsky had to guard Nikola Jokic, who licked his chops and converted an And-1 against Kaminsky with 28 seconds left.

Then, a little later, Abdel Nader bricked two of three free throws.

But, down 106-103, Crowder nailed a clutch 3-pointer with :07 on the clock.

Double OT.

This game was winnable. But we digress.

Ayton, despite fouling out, played another outstanding game, collecting 17 points and 13 rebounds in his 38 minutes.

You can’t fault the fight. And Denver needed every bit of Jokic’s 29 points and 22 rebounds.

Phoenix Suns, Jalen Smith (Photo by Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

The back-to-back games against Denver provided valuable experience for the bench guys — Crowder along with Nader, Jalen Smith and Kaminsky.

So what can be improved?

Cameron Payne has to be more assertive. His plus/minus is not in the “acceptable” range when he’s called on to sub for Chris Paul.

Opponents have enough video on him now that they are taking away his left-hand-dominant playmaking. How about a drive to the rim that incorporates the right hand?

Kaminsky should have no reservations about hoisting an open 3-point attempt, but he can’t create his own shot and must stick to garbage buckets and open 3s. Just do the dirty work.

Nader has a nice, athletic game but, as seen at the free-throw line late Saturday night, he needs more reps to become someone coach Monty Williams can count on in the critical minutes. The book isn’t written, though, and there are some serious points of potential.

Coming off of a bout with COVID-19 can’t be an easy task. But rookie Jalen Smith is a first-round NBA draft pick who needs to keep his physical mindset and stay fearless on open 3s.

The bottom line on this one? The Phoenix Suns remain a legitimate playoff contender when healthy, having taken the Western Conference runners-up to overtime in consecutive games.

The Suns next host the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors in back-to-back games Wednesday and Thursday. Devin Booker’s health willing — and maybe a return of Dario Saric — the Suns should win twice and go to 10-7 as the 72-game season’s first quarter nears its end.

Losses are never good, but when a young team can better define exactly what they are during those losses, well, all is not lost.

What do Suns fans think?