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Suns badly miss scratched Rubio, get lost in sloppy game vs. Celtics

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) shoots as Boston Celtics forward Grant Williams defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Nov. 18, 2019, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns’ performance on Monday night in a loss to the Boston Celtics felt out of place, a compliment to how well they’ve played 12 games into the season.

It was also quite the compliment to how much they need starting point guard Ricky Rubio, who was scratched before the game due to back spasms.

Jevon Carter replaced Rubio in the starting lineup, and without the Spaniard in a sloppy game that lacked any rhythm, Phoenix looked all out of sorts. They lost to the Celtics 99-85.

The ball movement stagnated and so did the numbers. They had 22 assists and 19 turnovers, shot 10-for-36 from deep and had only two players reach double figures.

“That’s not us,” head coach Monty Williams said of the ball movement.

“We’ve proven there’s a style of play that works for us. It may not mean you’re going to win the game but it gives you a shot.”

The Suns’ point totals by quarter were 22, 20, 23 and 20.

That was even with Boston playing in Sacramento last night and the Suns having three days in-between games.

You wouldn’t have even noticed given the way the Celtics, even in a “not great” performance by them anyway, systematically put away a young team playing poorly.

“It’s a great learning experience for us,” Williams said. “We have an identity and one of those components is sharing the ball and when we move the ball and have player movement, we’re pretty good.”

Devin Booker was eliminated from the game as much as possible, something teams will still fully do at the expense of giving his teammates good opportunities despite the better supporting cast around him.

The “run and jump” defense Booker has seen in the past, an aggressive form of blitzing/trapping that pushes him to the corner and forces him to pass, was put into place by Boston’s Brad Stevens.

The Suns had some success breaking it down at times.

But overall, the Celtics are one of the best defensive teams in the league. When the Suns were sluggish, it was like blood in the water for Boston, and it pounced on a mucky offensive performance by the Suns.

And when Boston had to execute offensively, they did. A 21-4 run to close out the first half was essentially all it was going to take for two teams having off-nights that were not playing their respective best brands of basketball.

Kemba Walker didn’t necessarily kill the Suns numbers-wise, but in what has become a theme for top-level players against the Suns, he never looked out of his zone. He got all the good looks he wanted and set up his teammates in the process, finishing with 19 points and five assists.

Large wings still give the Suns issues too, as the height/weight combination for the likes of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Mikal Bridges is too much to overcome at times. That’s where a bigger, stronger wing who is just as quick and even more skilled can go to work.

The NBA has a handful of those guys, ala Boston’s Jayson Tatum, who feasted to the tune of 26 points and 11 rebounds.

In what shouldn’t be a surprise without Rubio, the Suns lacked a secondary ball-handler. While Aron Baynes, Oubre and Frank Kaminsky have provided scoring for Phoenix, none of them can create much on their own.

Boston bet on that throughout the game and the Suns’ poor decision-making almost felt assisted by the shots the Celtics wanted them to take.

Oubre was the only other Sun to score at least 10 points with 15. Booker had 20 on 13 shots while Kaminsky, Dario Saric, Cam Johnson and Aron Baynes combined to shoot 12-for-39 and just 31 points. That group averages 44.1 points a night, and they need to eclipse that on nights when they’re without Rubio, as does Oubre for his 16.9 points per game and Booker’s 25.5.

Rubio being out was certainly the cause of the funk the Suns were in, but you couldn’t help feeling a little bit triggered when the team’s specific struggles resembled last year’s team.

They play five games in seven days this week, traveling to Sacramento for a game Tuesday night. It’s back home on Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans before a brutal road back-to-back in Minnesota and Denver over the weekend on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Phoenix hasn’t quite hit a point in the season yet where we could officially call it a “skid” or a “rut” and them avoiding such a thing for this week of basketball is critical after their worst quality of play this season.

They still have a lot of growing to do as a team, and having that “skid” or “rut” in late January would be a whole lot different than mid-November.

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