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Phoenix Suns

Bradley Beal tries to put finger on loss to Pelicans

© Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns entered yesterday’s matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans on a three-game win streak, while the Pelicans had dropped their last four.

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The Suns had also had handedly won the first two matchups between the two teams, including a 124-111 victory just last Monday.

All of those streaks ended yesterday, as New Orleans (46-32) defeated Phoenix (46-32) 113-105 in the Suns’ second-to-last game at home.

”It was a good, competitive game,” Suns’ guard Bradley Beal said postgame. “Hats off to them, they competed. But, we didn’t have that same fight to want to win that they did.”

The Suns and Pelicans are now tied for the sixth seed in the Western Conference, but the Suns own the head-to-head tiebreaker with four games left.

The strong defensive effort the Suns had played with during their win streak looked like it would carry over, as they jumped out to a 20-8 lead with just under three minutes to go in the first quarter.

Then, seemingly everybody got hot for the Pelicans, starting with CJ McCollum and Jose Alvarado in the first half. McCollum had 21 points at halftime, including 5-of-8 3-point shooting, while Alvarado contributed 12 points off the bench on a perfect 4-for-4 clip from downtown. The Pelicans led 56-50 at halftime and won the second quarter 37-24.

Coach Frank Vogel explained why the game changed in the second quarter postgame.

“We didn’t guard the 3, they made eight 3s in the quarter,” Vogel said. “That’s the modern NBA, teams can deliver a knockout punch with the three-point line by getting hot; you see it all over the league. I don’t want to say it was a knockout punch, but it certainly swung the game.”

Vogel added that the Suns didn’t have enough urgency when guarding the 3-point line.

”Not with (McCollum) and not with Alvarado. I mean, Alvarado killed us with his shooting as well,” Vogel said

McCollum continued this strong effort into the start of the third, helping New Orleans lead by as many as 12. Phoenix was able to climb all the way back and actually take a one-point lead early in the fourth after Beal scored 13 points in a row to open the quarter.

Then, Zion Williamson checked into the game and everything changed. Williamson finished with 12 points and three blocks in the fourth quarter alone. He ended the night with 29 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and a career-high five blocks.

Many on the Pelicans side called this one of, if not the best game the former No. 1 overall pick has played in his career.

Beal, who had one of his best games in a while with 33 points (7-of-8 3-point shooting) and five assists, tried his best to explain the loss postgame.

”It’s kind of tough to pinpoint, man,” Beal said. “I think it was they kind of wanted it a little bit more than we did. They played with a sense of (despair), not in a negative way, but they really wanted to get the win tonight and kind of turn their season around. We had a chance to really kind of set ourselves up for staying out of the play-in with a win. But, CJ came out firing. I think that was tough on us from the beginning. And obviously, we allowed Zion to kind of get rolling at the end and attacking the basket. And I think we just didn’t make shots either down the stretch too, that kind of just hurt us.”

Beal said he didn’t think it was an issue when asked about why the Suns didn’t show enough urgency to win.

“Why (the urgency) wasn’t there, I don’t know,” Beal said. I think we were energetic enough to win the game … but you could see they had a little more fight.”

Getting Good Looks

Kevin Durant didn’t want to just point fingers at Williamson for the Pelicans’ resilient win.

“It was everybody else,” Durant said. “Alvarado played a great game, had five threes. Damn, I didn’t know he had five. I feel like he was making everything; Dyson Daniels played a great game for them. I mean Zion is one of those dudes who is going to get his points every game. You should just chalk that up to him being that great that he is going to score. There are 100 possessions in a game. Not just him, CJ came out and had six threes in the first half. I think everyone contributed tonight.

“I think if you look down the line, we got more shots up, same amount of threes, we fouled at the end so let’s say the same amount of turnovers, rebounds, assists, turnovers. We had 15 turnovers, they had 12, they made two more threes than us, and we lost by like eight or six. Against great teams like that, it is going to come down to shot-making. They made shots tonight, got to give them credit. After two games where we played them pretty good – we beat them at their place pretty bad – you knew they was going to come out with just a different vibe. They knocked down shots, we got some good looks too that we just couldn’t make. Like I tell you the whole year, it is a make or miss league. When you do everything pretty equal to the team, it is about who makes the most shots.”

Durant, who finished with 23 points on 8-of-22 shooting, was asked how much different the result would have been if Grayson Allen, who  had 11 points but shot 3-of-10 from deep, had made his open shots, as Allen leads the league in 3-point percentage.

“It’s not just Grayson, it’s me,” Durant said. “I felt like almost two layups, a dunk, like three 3s that was open or middies that was open. I feel like we all got good looks tonight, we generated good shots tonight. They made some, we didn’t.”

Vogel said he was perfectly fine with the open shots Phoenix got, as the Suns shot 39-of-87 (44.8%) from the floor and 14-of-39 (36%) from deep.

“We had some great looks,” Vogel said. “You live with that. You can sleep at night knowing that you’re getting the quality looks that you want. We’re gonna win most games if we get those types of shots.”

Standings Implications

The Suns play their last regular season home game Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers (50-28) and face a tough schedule the rest of the way, playing the Clippers again on the road Wednesday. Then, they close out the regular season at the Sacramento Kings (45-33) and Minnesota Timberwolves (54-24).

At this rate, they have to finish with the same or better record than the Pelicans, who play their next three games on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers (21-57), Kings and Golden State Warriors (43-35). Their regular season finale is at home against the Los Angles Lakers (45-34) Sunday.

The Kings are also one game behind Phoenix with their remaining matchup determining the tiebreaker. The Lakers are 1.5 games back of the Suns and Pelicans and own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Phoenix. The Warriors are three games behind Phoenix, while the Suns own the tiebreaker over them.

If it does come down to a play-in situation for the Suns, if they are the No. 7 seed, they will play the No. 8 seed at home. The winner advances to play the No. 2 seed in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser has to be play the winner of a matchup between the No. 9 vs. No. 10 seed. Whoever wins this second matchup plays the No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs.

Right now, the Suns would play No. 3-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder (53-25) in the first round without having to deal with the play-in as the sixth seed.

Minnesota is the currently No. 1 seed, as they own the tiebreaker over the Denver Nuggets (54-24), who have the same record as them.

“It is hard not to look at (the standings),” Durant said. “Everybody talks about it every day. When you open your phone, it is everywhere. Every game is important to everybody now, it is do or die for everybody at this time. Watching, or spectating, it is hard not to see it. It is about every possession and focusing on that. Knowing you can’t control too much, just try to focus on us.”

Beal gave his opinion on if the Suns do fall to the play-in situation.

“I have been a part of the play-in before in my career,” Beal said. “It is a little nerve-wracking, but it is just another game. You show up, and if it’s a double elimination or single elimination, we have to make it work. At the same time, we control our destiny. We just have to go out there and compete and take it one game and one day at a time and get better every day. We have a playoff series coming up and if we are not locked in, it can get really ugly for us. We have a tough team Tuesday. We just have to get ready to go.”

Poor shooting results in critical loss to Pelicans

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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