PRESCOTT VALLEY – The Phoenix Suns reassigned Derrick Jones Jr. to the Northern Arizona Suns for the third time this season on Friday, Dec. 23. But his presence alone wasn’t enough to boost the hometown NBA Development League team’s fortunes.
Oklahoma City outscored the Suns 35-17 in the fourth quarter, extending the host’s 2016-17 season-high losing streak to four in a 101-97 setback.
“We weren’t disciplined again toward the end,” said NAZ coach Ty Ellis, referring to his team’s struggles of late. “I really don’t know how to explain it. I just told the guys [in the locker room] that the game plan is on the board. And when guys start trying to do it their own way, that tends to happen.”
NAZ led the entire contest until the waning seconds. Up 97-94 with 17 seconds left, OKC Blue guard Alex Caruso drilled a 3-pointer to tie it.
Suns point guard Josh Gray turned the ball over on the ensuing possession and NAZ’s Eli Millsap was whistled for a flagrant foul with 1.8 seconds remaining. Myke Henry converted two free throws for a 99-97 Blue lead. Then, with 1 second left, the Suns’ Johnny O’Bryant fouled OKC’s Kalbe Tarczewski, who calmly sank two more FTs to seal it.
“For them [OKC] to win this game is all on us, man,” O’Bryant said. “Whatever we’ve got to do to fix it has gotta happen.”
In the final five minutes of regulation, the Suns were outscored 20-4 in what could best be described as a meltdown. NAZ led 82-66 with 11:40 remaining, but could not make the sizeable advantage stick.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” NAZ guard Shaquille Harrison said. “We got away from what we were doing in all three quarters [before the fourth] and fell into their game. We can’t dwell on this. We’ve got to move forward.”
Five Blue players scored in double figures, led by Daniel Hamilton’s 22 points and eight rebounds. Tarczewski followed with 21 points and nine rebounds. He converted 11-of-13 from the line. Caruso (20 points, nine boards), Henry (10 points) and Boubacar Moungoro (10 points) were other standouts.
“Every team in this league is good,” Ellis said. “It’s unfortunate we took a loss like this. Hopefully we’ll learn from it and kind of move on.”
For the Suns, six players scored in double figures. Millsap registered a double-double with 20 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. O’Bryant (17 points, six rebounds, four assists), Harrison (16 points), Xavier Silas (13 points, three 3-pointers), Gray (10 points) and Jones Jr. (10 points) followed.
Jones Jr. missed NAZ’s last two contests after being called up by Phoenix Dec. 15.
With the loss, the Suns’ record dropped to 10-5 overall. They are 2 games back of the Pacific Division-leading L.A. D-Fenders (13-4). The Blue improved to 10-7. OKC ended a four-game road losing streak.
On Friday, NAZ wrapped up a stretch in which it played 11 of the campaign’s first 15 contests at home. The squad didn’t disappoint, posting an impressive 8-3 record.
“We just have to stay at it,” O’Bryant said. “Teams go through these stretches where they lose games and can’t finish games. It’s just all about staying with it and trusting the same things – the game plan, coaches’ decisions. We’ve gotta finish games. That’s all it is.”
During their four-game losing streak, the Suns have scored less than 100 points in each setback.
The Suns will head out on their first multiple-game road trip of the season starting on Christmas Day at the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Skyforce. Tipoff is at 6 p.m. They will then visit the West Coast to battle the Santa Cruz Warriors at 8 p.m. Dec. 29, and the L.A. D-Fenders at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 30. The Suns are 0-2 versus the Warriors and 0-1 vs. the D-Fenders.
Suns starting point guard Askia Booker, who missed his seventh game with an ailing groin, could still return as early as next week, which would provide a lift.
NAZ won’t come back to PV Event Center until Friday, Jan. 6, versus the Eastern Conference’s Canton (Ohio) Charge. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m.
Follow Doug Cook on Twitter @dougout_dc. Reach him at 928-445-3333 ext. 2039, or 928-642-7865.