The young Phoenix Suns were on a 4-game losing streak going into Friday night’s game against a red-hot Houston Rockets team, dropping a full 6 games back of the 8th seed in the West playoff race. And they were still painfully shallow in the rotation, with only seven healthy players and most of the rest still smarting from being mentioned in trade rumors.
So of course the Suns tallied their biggest win of the season, a 36-point blowout against the surging Houston Rockets. That marks the Suns 5th 20+ point win of the season, the most such wins they’ve had in a single season since 2010. Also, credit to the Suns stat nerds, this was the Suns’ fourth win by 25+ points in 52 games this season. Entering 2019-20, the Suns had four wins TOTAL by 25+ points in their previous 562 games dating back to Nov. 23, 2012.
“They played great,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said after. “They hit every shot, even the contested shots they were making. You know they punched us in the mouth in the first quarter.”
The Suns won the first quarter 46-26 and survived a mini-run by James Harden to get the Rockets back to within five at 57-52, before the Suns blasted them again and for good. The Suns took a 97-73 lead into the fourth quarter when the Rockets threw in the towel.
This was the same Suns team that had lost four straight heading into the trade deadline, but also the same team that beat Dallas by 29 on the road just 10 ago to bookend that losing streak.
So where did they get the solar burst to emphatically blow out out the Rockets on Friday night?
“The first thing we said when we saw each other this morning was, ‘We made it.’,” Kelly Oubre said after the game.
Yes, they made it past the trade deadline with not a single transaction executed. The Suns will play with this group of 15 roster players that started the year and will be there in game 82.
For better or worse, for sure. But you can bet the players believe it’s for the better.
“Everybody here loves each other,” Oubre said. “To leave this group of guys would be heartbreaking. But we’re all here, so it’s a blessing.”
Oubre poured in a career high 39 points on 15-19 shooting (including 7 threes), and posted consecutive 30+ point games for the first time in his career. Those consecutive games just happened to occur right around that trade deadline in which he knows teams were calling the Suns to check on his availability. Word is that the Suns answered the calls, listened to offers, but never actually put Oubre on the block.
Here’s Oubre talking about the game:
Many Suns fans were worried about Devin Booker’s mindset too, but he made it clear on the court and in the various interviews he took that he was focused on THIS team and no one’s else’s. Just like he’s done every single time he’s been asked in the past two years. Every time.
“Off the charts, incredible,” Booker said of the energy on Friday. “I feel like we have been in a funk, it was a tough road trip for us but now we are back home with back-to-back games. We had to come with the energy today, protect home court and that’s what we did.”
His play on the court once again solidified that promise. Booker dropped 18 points in that blast of an opening quarter, and finished with 33 in just three quarters of play (30 minutes).
Here’s Booker after Friday’s win:
Despite the short bench, none of the Suns starters exceeded 31 minutes except Kelly Oubre Jr. (36 minutes).
Even Kelly would have sat the fourth, except the Suns didn’t have enough active, healthy players. Cheick Diallo, Elie Okobo and Jevon Carter were healthy, but Rubio, Cam and Ty Jerome were noticeably laboring. Maybe these guys really are hurt.
Another nice development is that Monty and the team really want to refocus on taking three-pointers. Over the first two months of the season the Suns were 8th in attempts per game (35.8 per game) but that had dropped to 30th since January 1 (25.6 per game) heading into last night’s game.
The coaching staff emphasized taking threes again, especially in lieu of long twos early in the clock, and the result was the Suns taking an aggressive 10 three-pointers in the opening quarter against the Rockets.
Part of the problem is missing some of the better long-range shooters due to injury, but also part of it is Deandre Ayton not taking any threes.
Ayton will tell you that he was ready to take one on Friday, but just didn’t find the right time. He’s ready to launch, and once he starts it might become a more regular thing.
Ayton: “I was feeling it tonight. I told Ricky, I said, ‘Yo Ricky, I’m feeling the 3.’ I said, ‘I’m about to pick-and-pop. I need this 3. Before you knew it, I got subbed out.”
For one night at least, the clouds parted and the happy, fun Suns shone back onto Planet Orange.
Let’s hope that continues.
Suns host the Denver Nuggets at 7:00PM tonight.
Ayton gets to face off against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. If you remember last time, the Nuggets won a close one in Phoenix just before Christmas, before Ayton returned for good to the lineup. Let’s see if the Suns can avenge that loss for their second improbable win in a row.
Yes, your Suns are only 21-31, but they’re otherwise profiling as a solid team with 16th ranked offense, 18th ranked defense and 14th-best net point difference in the 30-team league.