Kelly Oubre Jr. bounces back, Suns roll past Trae Young’s Hawks
PHOENIX — It took a quarter or so for the Phoenix Suns to recalibrate after facing the bruising Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. Two days later, they turned around to play a perimeter-oriented Atlanta Hawks team led by point guard Trae Young.
For a team that knows all too well how it goes when a young perimeter star must carry too much weight on a talent-lacking and injury-hit roster, the result wasn’t surprising.
Phoenix got over a slow start Thursday, took advantage of Kelly Oubre Jr.’s 30-point outburst and pulled away in the second half for a 128-112 win at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“I think it was a bit of a hangover from the other night,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “Different crowd different energy.
“Playing against Trae (Young), he’s just unique. It’s almost like a quarterback who has eight seconds to throw the ball. Eventually you’re going to have a breakdown.”
Phoenix trailed 19-10 midway through the second quarter as Young and the Hawks attacked with heavy pick-and-roll sets, exposing Suns center Aron Baynes’ limited footspeed and allowing Young to begin piling up 13 assists by the end of the night.
For a game that was a turnover fest for Devin Booker (seven giveaways), a bad matchup for Baynes (plus-minus of -10) and a rough shooting night for Ricky Rubio (2-of-9 from the field), the Suns learned how a few of their key role players could make up the difference.
Oubre finished with 30 points, eight boards, three assists and two steals while debuting his “flames” colorway personal edition Converse shoes. One of the forward’s early-game possessions stood out to Williams.
From the weakside, Oubre flashed into the lane to help after Atlanta ran a pick-and-roll. He recovered on a kick to an open shooter in the corner, and though he was pump-faked, Oubre got back inbounds to contest the shot attempt. It resulted in a miss, and Oubre streaked out to score easily in transition.
That’s Oubre’s upside in a nutshell, Williams said.
“Just staying the course,” Oubre added. “I was running, playing defense, doing everything I was doing last game. This game I was definitely trying to be more mindful of being at the right place at the right time.”
While Booker scored a relatively quiet 27, the Suns also got a boost from forward Dario Saric, who posted a season-high 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
“I just think Dario is a guy that I need to incorporate more,” Williams said. “So I have to figure out a way to let him touch the ball, Devin a touch, Ricky’s got the ball, Kelly is over here, I got a politician over here and I got a mom over here. I’m trying to please everybody.”
The Suns led 67-61 at halftime despite the up-and-down start. But they came out of the intermission looking like a good team wanting to make up for that.
Phoenix leaked out in transition and brought more defensive pop handling Young. Atlanta’s second-year guard scored 17 points in the first half but finished with just 21.
At the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, Phoenix went to a lineup led by a wing trio flanked by Tyler Johnson at point and Frank Kaminsky at center. Oubre helped keep that group afloat as the No. 1 offensive option, beginning that shift with a dunk before hitting a three-pointer at the buzzer of the third quarter.
Johnson, however, might’ve been the unnoticed bench hero despite scoring no points. He added five assists in 22 minutes of action and had a plus-minus of +22 while buoying the defensive effort against Young.
When a few of the young Hawks failed to capitalize on Young passing out of traps, the Suns got open shots on the other end.
They scored 21 fastbreak points, making up for an ugly 60 points given up to Atlanta in the paint. Phoenix frustrated the young Hawks with key charges taken — and that frustration showed. Already down regulars John Collins (suspension), Kevin Huerter and Evan Turner, among others, Atlanta lost DeAndre’ Bembry to a double-technical foul ejection and rookie Cam Reddish, who picked up two flagrant-1 fouls.
Meanwhile, Kaminsky added 19 points and six rebounds, posting a +29. He and Johnson played in that strong bench stretch with Oubre, Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges at the wings. Their efforts allowed the starters to burn a few key fourth-quarter minutes then end the game on the bench.
All-in-all, the win to begin the Suns’ second chunk of the season — they have sectioned the year into 10-game increments according to Oubre — began like it should have: by beating a less talented team at home.
That’s despite a few of the Suns’ flaws being exposed.
“You hate to say it, but you miss D.A. (Deandre Ayton),” Williams admitted. “That athleticism and that kind of athlete is what would cover up those kind of deficiencies that we have, but our guys scrapped.
“We’re doing more than making do. It may not look like it, but the goal is to win the game, and I have to be mindful of that. Yet do we want to improve? For sure.”