If the Suns win games in 2019-20, they’ll have made a gob-ton of threes and/or had Devin Booker carry them with fifty— Except they didn’t need either of those things to blow out the Sacramento Kings on opening night, 124-95.
In a game the Suns won by 29 points, they cashed in only 33% of their threes and Devin Booker only scored a measly 22 points.
Even more shocking, when the Suns took the lead for good at 66-64 with 7:43 left in the third, they’d only made 12 percent of their threes (2-for-18) and Booker had only 11 of his points — well behind the team leaders.
And even more shocking than that, Booker was getting absolutely cooked by counterpart Buddy Hield, who already at 25 points, including 5-8 on threes, in just over two quarters of play, with Booker mostly as his defender.
“Devin just stayed with the game plan,” Williams said of Booker not losing his cool. “When your matchup scores like that, you have a tendency to lose your head. But he stayed with the game plan, he just stayed with it. I was more impressed with Devin’s reaction than anything.”
At that moment, the Suns were shooting in the low 40s, Rubio couldn’t hit an outside shot, Aron Baynes was in foul trouble (four fouls in five minutes of play!), Booker was getting cooked, Hield was going OFF.
But somehow, by mid-third quarter, the Suns had taken the lead.
“When the shots weren’t falling and their shots were falling,” coach Monty Williams said afterward. “I saw the group (come together). We’ve been talking about our emotions when adversity hits, and tonight, we handled it well.”
This might be the fastest I've seen any Suns team move the ball, player to player, since I started covering the team in 2012. But the ball is popping.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 24, 2019
It's also popping in and out of hands and rims too. Lots of fumbles, missed open shots.
Suns down 33-31. 9:08 left in second Q.
In the middle of the second quarter, the Suns found themselves down 50-39, the lowest point of the night. In recent times, that’s when the Suns would have folded.
“There was a time in the game when we went down eleven because we couldn’t make any shots,” center Deandre Ayton said. “We just came together in the huddle and Ricky (Rubio) got us together, we came out of the gates like we were hooligans. Running and keeping the pace with them and leaving our foot on the gas.”
The Kings kept playing well too, but the Suns worked and worked and worked to keep the game in check, ending up only down five at halftime, 59-54, by closing on a modest 15-9 run.
What’s the big difference between now and last year?
“We have dudes on the team to lead us too,” Ayton said. “Coach is not out there on the floor seeing everything. We have vets on the court that have been around, been winning games to keep us in check.”
Kings 12 assists and 15 turnovers. Suns 22 assists and 8 turnovers. That's keeping them in the lead but the 3s have to start falling. 3-of-19.— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) October 24, 2019
Other NBA teams are probably doing that “huh?” thing right now. Don’t we all have vets in the trenches, carrying the team through tough times, keeping the guys in check, talking in huddles? Not the Suns in recent years.
So this is new to last year’s holdovers, who primarily consist of Ayton and Booker, as well as second-year forward Mikal Bridges, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tyler Johnson. Those are the only five of the 10-12 regulars in the rotation who have ever played with this franchise before.
Maybe things have changed.
After the Suns finally took the lead, the rout was on. BY THE BENCH MOB. The lead quickly ballooned.
Devin Booker has only 11 points on 12 shots.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 24, 2019
The Suns have made only 6 of 23 threes.
Yet they are up 13 points on the Kings in the fourth.
The Suns 3P killers this game?— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 24, 2019
Tyler Johnson 2-3
Jevon Carter 2-3
Aron Baynes 1-1
Starting lineup: 2-13
Suns have a 17 point lead tho
But Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio will tell you not to read too much into one game.
“Not too high, not too low,” Booker said after the game, using the exact same words Rubio had used all summer during the FIBA tournament.
Devin Booker on the Suns’ defensive effort tonight: pic.twitter.com/WS4FCakIAD— Evan Sidery (@esidery) October 24, 2019
“We have a lot of potential, it is just one game,” Rubio said. “We have to show it every night and tomorrow we come back again, practice what we have to improve and get better.”
Booker finished with 22 points, 10 assists and a steal, while Rubio tallied 11 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and four steals. It was Rubio’s defense and playmaking that spurred the Suns third quarter deficit into a lead.
“You don’t realize how strong Ricky is,” Williams said of his point guard, “until he’s getting by guys and holding them on his hip and finishing at the basket. He has experience, he has strength. The game has really slowed down for him. He’s one of the guys that’s in my head. He kind of knows the play calls that I’m going to call or somewhere around the area where I want to call a play.”
Rubio commented on the team’s defensive potential and complimented coach Williams for adjusting on the fly.
“This team has a lot of length and a lot of depth on the bench, too,” Rubio said. “We can be aggressive, there is a lot of hands out there, we can interrupt their plays. Coach has been great making changes on the fly. That is one of the keys these days where you do a game-plan. It is not working like it is supposed to be, we change something, everybody is on the same page and we execute.”
The Suns’ leaders all night were definitely their starting guards, but 21-year-old big man Deandre Ayton showed renewed effort on defense — four blocks to go along with his 11 rebounds and otherwise good presence all night.
“We are trying to rotate him where he can stay fresh and not have him play long stretches,” Williams said. “I think if we can keep him fresh, he’ll have more energy. People forget the kid is really really young.”
Ayton certainly had the energy on Wednesday night. He was active in all of his stretches, playing 33 minutes to produce those 18 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and a steal.
“You don’t know when the pass is coming,” Ayton said of Rubio. “You just got to keep running.”
Deandre Ayton on Ricky Rubio:— Evan Sidery (@esidery) October 24, 2019
“You don’t know when the pass coming. You just gotta keep running.” pic.twitter.com/RZujZMnF9u
And Kelly Oubre Jr. shook off a Josh-Jackson-like start to settle down and make a big difference with his relentless energy. Oubre finished with 21 points and 8 rebounds, with a steal and a pair of blocked shots.
In the second half, the Suns outscored the Kings 70-36 after trailing at halftime by five points. In the end, the Suns had an excellent 31-14 assist to turnover ratio and grabbed 13 steals. They made 50 percent of their shots and 10 different players scored at least 5 points.
That’s a great team win.
But it’s just one win.
“I told our guys the professional effort that we have to bring tomorrow is at the top of my list,” Williams said. “How we approach tomorrow, whatever we do, it has to be at a high level. We can’t have a show-up mentality. We have to bring that grit and toughness that we showed tonight.”
Ayton echoed those comments. He remembers just two weeks ago when they followed their preseason wins with bad efforts the next game, including one in Sacramento against these game Kings where they lost by almost 20 points.
A year ago, the Suns followed up a big opening-night 21-point win over the Mavericks by losing seven straight and 21 of their next 24.
Let’s see if they can put their effort where their words are.
In the bonus
Remember Trevor Ariza? Yeah, me too. Well so do the fans at the arena.
Ariza getting booed on EVERY touch.— Dave King (@DaveKingNBA) October 24, 2019
Ariza was predictably terrible for the Kings all night, first-handedly contributing to the Suns win in ways only Trevor can explain to his teammates on the Kings.
Rubio on the win:
Ayton on his four blocks and lots of running