During a timeout late in Phoenix’s 113-110 loss to Washington on Tuesday night in front of a sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center, Suns coach Monty Williams and centre Deandre Ayton had a heated exchange.
With 43.4 seconds remaining, Phoenix was trailing, 107-100.
“In those moments, it was the entire team,” Williams said after the game. “It wasn’t just Deandre; the entire team was failing to execute properly. It was frustrating, but that happens. That was not a one-person or one-player event.”
Washington (12-20) used a 15-0 run late in the fourth quarter to snap a 10-game losing streak, with the Ayton-Williams exchange contributing to the Suns’ dreadful finish (19-13).
“We weren’t exchanging words,” Ayton admitted. “We’re a unit. He knows how to communicate with his boys, and his boys know how to communicate with him. Obviously, the entire world sees it, but it’s really all about love and getting us back to regroup and remove the confusion.”
On a play that ended with Chris Paul forcing the ball to Torrey Craig, who was denied on the shot, it appeared Ayton missed setting a screen for Mikal Bridges.
On the other end, Ayton was called for a foul.
Bridges began jawing at Ayton and pointing to the other end of the court as Washington’s Deni Avdija attempted his free throws.
As he watched the argument, Wizards All-Star Bradley Beal began to smile and clap.
On the other end, Landry Shamet missed a shot, and the Wizards called a timeout with 43.4 seconds remaining to avoid a Suns trap. From there, Ayton and Williams engaged in a heated exchange that brought back memories of their back-and-forth in Game 7 of the Suns’ Western Conference semifinal loss to Dallas.
“Everyone got to see us heightened in the moment,” Ayton explained. “We’ve lost our advantage. It can become quite emotional. Oh, I thought you said that, but Coach clarified it in the huddle where we were all talking.”
Phoenix went on a scoring drought without All-Star Devin Booker during Washington’s 15-0 run that lasted more than four minutes. Booker missed his second straight game due to groyne pain.
After Bridges’ layup put the Suns up 100-94 with 4:22 left, the Suns didn’t score again until Shamet’s 3 with 18.9 seconds left. Phoenix gave up 25 points in the final 5:49 of the game.
“There are no excuses,” Shamet said. “Obviously, you should begin with them. Give them some credit. Those guys aren’t terrible players by any means. They’ve got some guys over there who can clearly score. They’ve struggled recently, but this is the NBA.”
Shamet led Phoenix with 31 points, hitting nine three-pointers, a career high and tying a franchise record for most made three-pointers in a game. Ayton had a double-double of 30 points and 13 rebounds, tying a season high.
Kyle Kuzma led the Wizards with 29 points, hitting 5-of-10 from beyond the arc, while Bradley Beal added 27. Washington led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter before Phoenix rallied to cut the deficit to two going into the fourth.
The Suns started the fourth quarter on a 14-2 run, leading by 10, only to see the Wizards come back to win.
“Our defence in the fourth broke down,” Williams said, noting that the Suns gave up 25 points on 14 turnovers. “That got us stuck in the mud. I thought we were getting tired. We missed a few shots near the end. We didn’t execute well down the stretch, to be sure, but it was a tough fourth quarter defensively for us.”
Paul finished with a double-double of 12 points on 3-of-11 shooting and 11 assists, but appeared to injure his right shoulder, which had been bothering him in the Lakers series, in the fourth quarter.
“No, it’s not like that,” Paul said after the game when asked if his shoulder felt the same way it did during the Lakers series. “Probably scared me more than anything else.”
With 5:19 remaining in the game, the veteran point guard ran into a screen set by Wizards big Taj Gibson, went down, and immediately grabbed at his shoulder.
Paul lay on the court for a few moments, grimacing in pain, before getting up, walking to the huddle, and finishing the game.
“He felt something,” Williams explained. “That’s why he was lying there. He was able to continue, but he was no longer himself.”
With 3.8 seconds remaining and no timeouts, Avdija fouled Paul on a 3. Paul attempted two free throws to get within three points and intentionally missed the third in the hopes of getting the offensive rebound and hitting a three-pointer to tie it.
Paul, who has a career free throw percentage of 87.1%, made the first but missed the second. He purposefully missed the third one in order to gain an extra possession, but he made it. To nullify the make, Paul committed a lane violation.
“At that point, it’s a possession game,” Paul explained.