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Elie Okobo gives Suns breath of fresh air in loss to Clippers

Phoenix Suns' Elie Okobo (2) drives to the basket as Los Angeles Clippers' Montrezl Harrell (5) defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

The Phoenix Suns released point guard Isaiah Canaan on Wednesday, signaling that a change was coming in the team’s second unit.

That change was rookie point guard Elie Okobo playing and the second-round pick responded with his best NBA minutes yet in a 115-99 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Okobo showed why he was one of the highest-rated international prospects in the 2018 NBA Draft, finishing with a career-high 19 points and four assists in 32 minutes.

Even dating back to the team’s time at the Summer League in Las Vegas during the offseason, Okobo was always impressing more with his passing vision and court sense.

On Wednesday, however, he showed the part of his game scouts loved the most: his scoring.

Okobo’s feel attacking the basket was on full display, hitting difficult floaters over rim protection.

He had 12 points and three dimes through the first half, scoring from all three levels and also finding Richaun Holmes on two different occasions around the rim.

Most importantly, Okobo was a plus-six in the first half in 12 minutes. He not only helped the team when he was on the court, but played extended minutes off the bench to alleviate some of the offensive pressure on Devin Booker’s shoulders.

Okobo’s play, along with the Suns’ in the first half, was a bright spot. They were tied with the Clippers at 49, but the wheels fell off in the third quarter of the Suns’ second game on a back-to-back.

The Clippers, who hadn’t played since Sunday, came out with the energy that was expected from the jump. They outscored the Suns 27-12 less than seven minutes into the quarter and finished it up 15 after a 40-point quarter.

To the Suns’ credit, they didn’t fold like they would earlier in the season, another sign of their improvement over the last two weeks.  They kept the deficit within range, at points fighting to within eight points.

The Clippers, though, are one of the best teams in the West currently and they played like it in the second half.

Booker was originally not listed on the injury report at the start of the day but was then downgraded to doubtful before the game due to a right big toe injury. He played and started despite that, finishing 9-of-21 from the field for 23 points and four assists.

Deandre Ayton had one of his worst games of the season, and in a rare occurrence, was not productive either. Four points was a career-low and only the third time in his career that he’s failed to reach double digits. He added nine rebounds, two steals and three blocks.

The Suns’ second unit continues to give the Suns a boost as of late. Josh Jackson scored 15 points and Richaun Holmes added another 10, plus four steals and two blocks. With the energy those two provide and Jamal Crawford’s offensive savvy, Phoenix might be on to something with a second unit if Okobo continues to play well.

UP NEXT

After a quick trip to Los Angeles, the Suns are back home on Friday against the Orlando Magic at 7 p.m. Listen to the action on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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