Phoenix Suns drop sixth straight, below .500 for first time this season after loss to Cleveland Cavaliers
Cleveland used a dominant fourth quarter to hand Phoenix its season-worst sixth straight loss, 112-98, Sunday before a sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center.
After opening the quarter on an 11-2 run to take a 10-point lead, the Cavaliers (26-15) extended that into a 27-6 marathon to build a 22-point advantage with 2:39 remaining.
“Their defense picked up,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said about the Cavs, who are first in the NBA in defensive rating. “They put pressure on us and kept us from getting into any kind of flow on offense and they converted a bunch of our turnovers. The turnovers were pretty close but they were plus-nine (in points allowed off turnovers). The ones that happened in the fourth just gave them a lot of momentum.”
Having now lost nine of its last 10 games, Phoenix has a losing record for the first time this season.
“I still have complete faith that we’ll be able to make a deep run at it, but again, we need to get some wins on the board now,” Suns big Jock Landale said.
The Suns (20-21) were without Devin Booker (groin), Cameron Payne (foot), Cam Johnson (knee) and Chris Paul (hip), who was downgraded from questionable to out hours before Sunday’s game.
Paul missed the second half of Friday’s loss to Miami with a sore right hip.
Then late in Sunday’s loss with Phoenix down 18 points, Deandre Ayton tweaked his left ankle on the landing after shooting and missing a jump hook with 4:07 left in the game.
Ayton has missed four games this season with a left ankle sprain.
“Yeah, I think I stepped on somebody’s foot behind me,” Ayton said. “So I finished the jump hook and my left leg just drifted off behind me and twisted it. So it feels like it’s a day-by-day thing. No ankle is stopping me right now. I’m on a mission so I’m going to be up on my feet. No worries about that.”
With a losing record at the midway point of their season, the short-handed Suns will begin a four-game road trip Tuesday at defending champion Golden State (20-20). They follow that up with a matchup at Denver in the second of a back-to-back, Minnesota and end the trip at Memphis on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“Anytime you’ve been through what this team has been through, we had such a good start and then the last 21 games or so, it’s been one hit in the mouth after another,” Williams said. “So naturally, you’re going to be stressed and emotionally challenged, but as I tell the guys all the time man, nobody is digging ditches, going off to war or anything like that. It’s basketball and if this the toughest thing you have to deal with, consider yourself blessed.”
Duane Washington Jr. paced the Suns with 25 points off the bench Sunday, going 5-of-6 on 3s.
Mikal Bridges scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting after a 2-of-10 effort against the Heat, Ayton posted a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds to go with six assists and Landale went for 14 points and five boards off the bench.
Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell each scored 22 points to lead Cleveland as all five starters reached double figures in sweeping the home-away series.
The Cavaliers beat the Suns, 90-88, last week in Cleveland.
“At one point, they only had six points (in the fourth quarter),” Mitchell said about the Suns. “We went on that run and I told the guys that is who we want to be. That is what we need to do on a consistent basis. We did it in spurts and then we let them come back. You cannot mess around with a team like that. They’ve got veterans. Even though they have guys that are not playing, they have guys that have been there continuously. We have turned it up to a whole different level in that fourth quarter.”
The Suns trailed by as many as 13 points in the second quarter, but pulled within three at halftime as Washington Jr. hit a 3 with 2.5 seconds left in the half.
The two-way player kept the hot hand with an eight-point third quarter as his fourth 3 of the night gave Phoenix the lead, 77-76, with 1:48 left in the quarter.
“He hit some buckets that helped us gets some momentum going into halftime,” Williams said. “So I’m proud of his heart. I am proud of the way he is playing. This summer you would never have pegged him to be playing this type of a role for us in January and he has not backed off at all.”
The Suns went into the fourth down only one, 80-79, but turnovers doomed them.
“We have to stick to being solid,” Ayton said. “We can do it with this group. We just have to make sure we stay on top of it and understand that we don’t have the luxury to mess up. We don’t have that right now.”
The Cavaliers scored seven points off five Phoenix turnovers within the first six minutes of the quarter in building a 97-81 advantage.
Torrey Craig, Damion Lee and Landale committed the first three turnovers and Washington Jr. accounted for the latter two.
“My decision making wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, but it comes with it,” Washington Jr. said. “We had a tough fourth quarter and I felt like I was part of that.”
Washington Jr. scored just three points in the fourth on 1-of-4 from the field as his only bucket came with 52.2 second left in the game.
“Duane Washington was cooking and we needed somebody to kind of slow him down,” Bickerstaff said. “The staff suggested we put in Raul (Neto) and he was ready to go.”
Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix Suns drop below .500 after loss to Cleveland Cavaliers