The Suns Are Building Toward Stage Two Of Their Rebuild

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Rudy Gay is calm. Dribbling, waiting, readying himself. The clock continues to dwindle down. Eight, seven, six …

With 5.5 seconds left, LaMarcus Aldridge sprints towards half court as Gay switches hands with his dribble. Josh Jackson, fresh off a game-tying tomahawk slam, concedes a switch to his partner, Kelly Oubre, as Aldridge sets the screen.

Oubre mirrors Gay as he treks to his left, knowing a pull-up is coming. Sure enough, Gay rises up for the shot, and Oubre contests without fouling. He does everything right, but sometimes, that doesn’t matter.

The net snaps, the buzzer sounds, and another L is handed to the Phoenix Suns. It’s a heartbreaking way to lose, but, in a counter-intuitive way, it’s encouraging to see.

A great scholar once said, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” That ethos is widely accepted in sports, but there’s room for nuance if winning isn’t the primary goal. For the Suns, winning feels secondary. It certainly isn’t common; they’re losers of 12 in a row, and currently hold the league’s second-worst record at 11-45. This loss to the Spurs counts the same as the others, but there are rays of hope that haven’t always shone through.

Devin Booker is on one all night long, torching the Spurs to the tune of 38 points and seven assists. Mikal Bridges is his usual pesky self on defense (four steals for good measure), but finishes with an efficient 17 points on a mix of timely drives and triples. Jackson is a ball of energy that fills the stat sheet (14 points, six boards, five dimes), highlighted by his game-tying dunk late in the fourth quarter.

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Above the numbers, the Suns flat-out compete all night. They mostly play the Spurs to a standstill in the first half. Things get shaky midway through the third. A barrage of missed shots and turnovers turned an 80-all game into a 94-82 Spurs lead. But instead of letting the game get away, the Suns fight back. Even Gregg Popovich is impressed, and equally annoyed, at the disparity in effort between the two teams during his post-game interview.