Wow, what a game that was. Somehow, someway, the Phoenix Suns are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now. They just went into hostile territory at the TD Garden and pulled off a major upset against the Boston Celtics, 111-103.
Really, from the mid-third quarter on, the Suns controlled this game. It was honestly pretty stunning to watch, compared to previous games this season, but this might become the new norm soon enough.
By the way, what an addition Kelly Oubre Jr. was to this roster. His 7’3” wingspan was disrupting absolutely everything tonight, including multiple possessions at critical points late. I’ll save the rest for later on Oubre, because he’s defintley made my ‘Thumbs Up’ list for tonight.
Honestly, there were no negatives tonight for Phoenix — at least none that I could point out easily. With that being said, let’s dive into my recap.
What do you know, another ho-hum performance from Booker where he’s patiently controlling both sides of the floor. Booker is also playing more spirited defense, and it’s so obvious that this contagious energy is spreading around the team.
The Suns’ 22-year-old star finished with 25 points, 8 assists, 1 steal, and 2 blocks. Even when Booker wasn’t cooking scoring-wise, he was chipping in on defense where he had multiple deflections and impact plays.
I don’t think I’ve ever typed this about Booker before, but his defense was more impressive than his offense tonight. That’s saying something, and this could be a stepping stone moment for him and the rest of this young core on that end.
You can definitely tell the big fella is getting more and more comfortable each passing week. No different tonight for Ayton, too. The Suns’ No. 1 pick had 23 points and 18 rebounds on a super efficient 10-14 shooting.
One area where Ayton is really starting to impact the game is on the offensive glass. Eight of Ayton’s 18 rebounds tonight were rebounds saving possessions for Phoenix. With how physically dominant Ayton can be in that area, this is a great sight to see.
Whatever head coach Igor Kokoskov said to Ayton before benching him at Portland, it’s worked ever since then. Over this 7-game stretch, Ayton’s motor has seen a noticeable uptick.
Over the past three games, Booker and Ayton have started to feed off each other as primary scoring options as well, combining for 48 points.
Let’s see if this continues for the former University of Arizona Wildcat, because, if so, he could make a huge push for Rookie of the Year.
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Even though Oubre Jr. took a shot almost every chance the ball was swung in his direction, finishing with 12 shot attempts in 26 minutes, it didn’t matter. He made arguably the biggest shot of the game late when Devin Booker swung it back over to him as the shot clock was winding down. Oubre Jr. calmly set his feet and fired up a dagger three-pointer that put Boston’s spirited fourth quarter comeback effort to rest.
What a debut for Kelly Oubre. Might have sealed the game with this shot: pic.twitter.com/zo9yz9kKbC— Evan Sidery (@esidery) December 20, 2018
However, where Oubre Jr. made his biggest impact was on the defensive end. He was such a breath of fresh air compared to Trevor Ariza, who was obviously not trying his hardest while playing in a Suns uniform. The opposite can be said here for the man nicknamed Wave Papi.
Whether it was racking up deflections or being a complete pest not allowing an easy look, Oubre Jr. was everywhere making plays. If this continues for Oubre Jr., I wouldn’t mind the Suns re-signing him to a team friendly deal.
Booker being surrounded by active, defensive-minded wings (Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Oubre Jr.) might be the way to go long-term from a team building perspective.
We’ll see how the former Washington Wizard responds on Saturday night against his old team. And we might even see plenty of minutes where the two players who were swapped for one another square off one-on-one.
I was wrestling with the decision of putting either T.J. Warren or Jackson in this final spotlight category. In the end, I went with Jackson because his two-way impact was too obvious to ignore.
Jackson had his best game of the season. Not only did he not rush anything, but he was barking out orders to his teammates on a regular basis. The No. 4 pick in the 2017 draft seems to be getting more comfortable within Kokokskov’s system, which has been noticeable anyways over the past week-plus.
The leader for Phoenix in plus-minus at plus-14, Jackson helped spark multiple Suns runs whenever it was needed.
There were countless other solid outings around Phoenix’s roster tonight outside of these three, which included also Warren and Bridges.
This is definitely foreign territory, folks. The Phoenix Suns have won four straight games for the first time since March 2015. Will they stretch it to five against Ariza and the Wizards on Saturday?