What: Phoenix Suns (7-24) at Boston Celtics (18-11)
When: Wednesday, December 19th - 5:30 p.m. Phoenix local time (7:30 p.m. EST)
Where: TD Garden, Boston, MA
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
January 13th, 2015.
That was the last time the Suns won four games in a row.
That’s nearly four years ago (1,436 days if we want to get really specific).
That is what the Suns will be trying to accomplish tonight. It’s a pretty unexpected position to be in compared to a week ago, but this has been quite a week for these Suns.
After getting embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs last Tuesday (111-86) the Suns were buoyed by their bench and got 30 points from T.J. Warren to grind out a victory against the Dallas Mavericks (99-89) in which they limited their opponent to 5-33 shooting on 3s.
The next game marked the return of Devin Booker, who gave the Suns 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists to help fend off a strong first half from Karl-Anthony Towns and lead the Suns to a hard fought victory (107-99).
From there the Suns embarked on their current five-game road trip and had perhaps their most complete game of the season with a throttling of the hapless New York Knicks (128-110) fueled by a 41-17 third quarter.
Pretty much everyone played well. Booker had 38. Warren scored 17 of his 26 points during the decisive third period. DeAndre Ayton had 21 and 13. Jamal Crawford, 38 years old and in his 19th season, recorded a career high 14 assists.
During the current streak the Suns have not only benefited from the return of a healthy Devin Booker, apparently recovered from a lingering hamstring injury, but have also seen the low key potential boost to team chemistry provided by the departure of disenchanted Trevor Ariza.
The trade of Ariza, along with the buyout of Tyson Chandler and polite parting of ways with Austin Rivers marks a stark contrast in management styles between former GM Ryan McDonough and current team architect James Jones.
McDonough always seemed to hold onto disgruntled players until things blew up in his face (Markieff Morris, Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic, etc.) while Jones seems to interested in building a roster full of players who actually want to be Suns.
It’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for him.
Returning in the Ariza trade to the Washington Wizards, besides the aforementioned and dismissed Rivers, is (another) small forward: Kelly Oubre Jr.
Despite not filling a position of need for the Suns, who already have Mikal Bridges and Josh Jackson manning the forward spot, Oubre Jr. has the potential to bring the toughness and defensive intensity the team was hoping to get from Ariza.
Judging from his answers on what he thinks he will bring to his new team, that’s what we can hope to expect.
“Defense leads to offense. Just focus on that, just continue to keep that gameplan solid,” Oubre said. “I’m a confident individual but one thing I know I can control everyday is my effort and my energy. I will do that each and every night. My offense will follow. I’m not really worried about that because I know I can play.
“I’m trying to kill everybody, man. Straight up. If you’re in my way, you’re getting destroyed.”
Oubre will look to fit in what appears to be solidifying as an eight man rotation with Crawford, Richaun Holmes and (yes, even) Jackson recently playing very solid basketball.
While a three-game winning streak is pretty impressive for a Suns team that struggled so much through the first third of the season, everything isn’t butterflies and bumblebees.
The Suns are still 7-24, tied for the worst record in the league. Two of the Suns three wins were against teams on the second half of back-to-back games. The impact that had on Dallas (5-33 from three-point range) and New York, who completely ran out of gas, can’t be known for sure. None of those teams is exactly a world beater. Today they sit at 9th, 12th and 13th in their respective conferences.
But even if the Suns are just beating bad to average teams, that’s a far cry from the string of blowouts from earlier this season and a step towards maybe becoming an average team themselves.
This was also a point where the schedule appeared to soften slightly for the Suns, who have now only played the second-toughest schedule in the league after being number one up to this point.
The Boston Celtics, who I think we can all agree are a good team, will be a test of exactly where the Suns are in their growth.
Like the Suns, the Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season. They just had an eight-game winning streak of their own snapped in a 113-104 loss at the Detroit Pistons. They have had two days off to stew over that loss and get ready for a potential bounce back victory over the Suns.
Kyrie Irving (22.7 points, 6.3 assists) and Jayson Tatum (16.7 points, 6.5 rebounds) lead the way for the Celtics.
Not all has gone well for Boston this season. Gordon Hayward has been uneven off the bench for the team this season returning from injury and the team sputtered to a 10-10 start.
Al Horford has been ruled out for tonight’s game, but the Celtics have still gone 5-1 in his absence.
Earlier this season, the Celtics had to erase a huge deficit with a 35-20 fourth quarter to force overtime and beat the Suns in Phoenix. Irving (39 points) barely outdueled Booker (38), carrying his team to the victory with late game heroics.
Tonight also marks a return to the scene of the crime. This will be the second trip to TD Garden for Booker after scoring 70 points on March 24th, 2017. That happened in a loss, though, so let’s hope history doesn’t completely repeat itself.
Basically, this time Book (who has looked more Bookerish in his two games since returning from injury) can double-dip on his 70 points AND the Suns need to walk away with the win.
Even if that doesn’t happen, I think there is at least a reasonable expectation this will be a good basketball game. A week ago, I don’t think anyone would have thought so.