Suns show better effort, but drop 7th straight in Devin Booker’s return

Devin Booker returned from injury. So did Isaiah Canaan.

Phoenix led at halftime for only the second time this season and had six players score in double figures.

But in the end better overall effort was not enough to put an end to the losing.

Playing a better team had something to do with the outcome, but the Suns didn’t play well enough long enough Friday night as Toronto handed them a seventh consecutive defeat, 107-98, at Talking Stick Resort Arena.

“When we do things the right way, we have good results, but we still can’t get comfortable with losing,” Booker said. “No moral victories. We have to come out with wins.”

The Raptors (8-1) punched the Suns (1-7) with a 13-2 run to start the second half. Then Toronto’s second unit stretched the lead out to 18 as its bench scored 43 points.

Phoenix played better, but it has now allowed its opponent to shoot at least 50 percent from the field in each of its seven straight losses. The Raptors shot a blistering 59 percent in the second half, connecting on half of their 3-point shots.

“We have to sustain playing a physical, strong team like Toronto,” Suns first-year coach Igor Kokoskov said. “We have to sustain and play 48 minutes. We had a stretch in the third quarter where we couldn’t handle their physicality.”

Phoenix is clearly a better team with Booker, but the franchise talent isn’t in the kind of shape yet to consistently carry a heavy load. He finished with 18 points – on 20 shots – and went 2 of 7 from 3.

“We never hide him defensively and offensively, he’s got to score for us,” Kokoskov said. “Better be in shape. Better be in shape to play all those minutes because they’re coming.”

Playing 35 minutes, 33 seconds, Booker showed signs of fatigue. That’s understandable considering Booker missed the previous three games with the strained left hamstring, but he didn’t further injure his leg.

“It felt good,” Booker said. “It felt really good. Obviously, I wouldn’t have played if it didn’t. Still feel a little something, but it’s something you have to play through. It felt fine out there.”

Canaan came back from his ankle injury to score a game-high 19 on 8-of-12 shooting, hit 2 of 4 3-point attempts, and with Booker, provided more offensive stability and better spacing.

“The offense felt real comfortable,” Suns rookie 7-footer Deandre Ayton said. “We were back to normal.”

Ayton had a monster double-double of 17 points and 18 rebounds with seven coming on the offensive end. He used his quickness, length and got some calls in his favor.

“Just playing hard and when the refs see somebody playing hard, they eventually start blowing whistle,” Ayton said.

Josh Jackson scored 11 off the bench while TJ Warren and Trevor Ariza each had 10.

So why did Phoenix fold for a seventh consecutive game?

Well, Toronto’s better and understands how to seize the moment.

Kyle Lowry started that 13-2 run with a 3. Then Kawhi Leonard got a steal, fought off the trailing Ayton, dunked the ball with two hands and screamed with enthusiasm.

Nick Nurse drew a technical foul after the play, but Leonard came back and muscled through Warren to nail a straight-on banker, drew the foul and hit the free throw.

Booker came down and missed a 3. Next thing the Suns knew, Jonas Valanciunas was celebrating after scoring off a Lowry dish. Then Ayton missed a jumper and Toronto made Phoenix pay with Danny Green hitting that patent corner 3.

Kokoskov points to the ref to signal timeout and Phoenix went from leading by four to trailing by seven early in the third. The Suns came back to tie it at 61, but Toronto had set the tone and ended up pushing the lead up to 10.

The Raptors limited Phoenix to 33.3 percent shooting in the third.

“We did a good job with six or seven possessions out there in the third quarter,” said Leonard, who scored a team-high 19 points. “That’s what we hang our hat on, to be a defensive team.”

The Suns responded to being blown out by 30 at home to San Antonio to play its best game of the season since winning the opener over Dallas. The mood was better in the locker room after the game, but the players left once again in defeat.

“We can’t get settled with having good games and still losing,” Canaan said. “We’re supposed to go out there and expect to win every game. That’s the mindset we’ve got to have. We can’t get accustomed to losing or keep trying finding excuses as to why we lost this game. We’ve just got to keep working and keep get better.”

Took on the challenge

Leonard is a handful because he has that unique blend of size, strength, athleticism and plays with a controlled aggression.

In short, he’s a handful, but Booker held his own a couple of times and even blocked Leonard’s shot.

“You never know what you’re going to get with him because he has so many weapons in his arsenal, but you just try to make him work for it. Make it hard. If he makes a tough shot, a salute to him. You have to make it tough for him.”

Booker has struggled defensively this season, but he was more solid on that end Friday – with a bad leg.

Found the touch

Jackson showed some life to break out of what was a horrible shooting slump, shooting 5-for-8 and knocking down his only 3-point attempt.

Prior to that, Jackson had shot 30.6 percent from the field in Phoenix’s previous six games, hitting just 2 of 17 from distance.

Kokoskov has been calling for Jackson to make the simple play and the second-year pro showed signs of that Friday.

We The Bench

Toronto’s bench is one of the best in the league and displayed that Friday night.

Serge Ibaka, a longtime starter, stretches the defense with his shooting and is still a rim protector. Fred VanVleet is everywhere, Norman Powell is so solid and CJ Miles, at any time, can catch fire from 3 as he hit two huge ones in the fourth.

Kokoskov said before the game Toronto’s second unit wins games. Truth be told, Nurse could’ve let that group close out the game and Toronto would’ve still came out on top.

Holmes for Chandler

Kokoskov played Richaun Holmes instead of Tyson Chandler as that big off the bench to spell Ayton, saying it was about the matchups with Toronto.

Chandler has the experience edge and can score a little bit. Holmes is limited offensively, but he’s a more active body, especially on defense.

Let’s see if Kokoskov sticks with this rotation Sunday against Memphis.

Final line

The Suns shot just 55.6 percent (10 of 18) from the line. They came into the game shooting 79.2 percent.

That didn’t cost Phoenix the game, but it didn’t help matters, either.

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