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Suns survive in Charlotte, avoid terrible loss with late push from Oubre

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (3) shoots over Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Dec. 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

The Phoenix Suns were well on their way to one of the worst losses of the season, shooting 21% from three-point range, getting outrebounded by 16 and blowing a 20-point lead at halftime.

Then, the wave of Tsunami Papi crash-landed in Charlotte to have the Suns hold on and beat the Hornets 109-104.

Kelly Oubre Jr. had 23 points in the victory, but his back-to-back-to-back-to-back plays with the Suns down five and under a minute to go were all that mattered.

Oubre hit a three-pointer with 55.2 seconds left to make it a two-point game, blocked Bismack Biyombo’s shot at the rim the next time down and then hit another shot from deep with 19.8 seconds left to make it a quick 6-0 run and a one-point lead.

After a timeout, Oubre got his hand on a dribble handoff for Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham that went out of bounds.

Missed shots by Charlotte and made free throws by Phoenix locked in the win.

When you hear that the Suns were without the injured Aron Baynes (left calf strain) and Cheick Diallo (illness), you may be perplexed as to why this could have been a loss looked at with real negativity due to, along with the suspended Deandre Ayton, three centers being out. But it’ll be hard to find an example of a game that was more “a tale of two halves.”

The Hornets (8-14) were an absolute mess in the first half, turning the ball over 15 times, with the Suns (9-10) amounting to 12 steals. Phoenix’s activity level defensively was an issue and they executed enough offensively through on-and-off ball movement to a 59-39 lead despite shooting only 5-for-20 from deep.

Credit to Charlotte, as they responded in the second half with more energy, and that’s where the Suns failed to realize they were not getting the same team for all 48 minutes. It was yet another example of a young team on the rise learning how to control certain situations they haven’t been in yet as a group.

While Phoenix wasn’t defending as well, nor moving as well offensively, all they had to do was hit shots to survive.

They couldn’t. Prior to Oubre’s two in a row from three-point range, they were a shocking 2-for-20 from deep, including the starters outside of Devin Booker at a 1-for-21 number as a foursome.

The Hornets were gradually putting together points while the Suns stalled, getting outscored by 13 in the third quarter. Rim protection continues to be a huge issue when Baynes, Diallo and Ayton are off the floor, and it was again on Monday, with Charlotte getting 60 points in the paint.

Luckily, the Hornets’ awfulness in the first half seeped through the cracks enough in the second to add up to enough poor possessions, giving the Oubre wave a chance of existing.

The Suns’ edge in the first place was thanks to some great play from the youngsters, including Mikal Bridges’ best half this season. We can’t say game because his second half was rough but Bridges had 12 points, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block.

Ty Jerome debuted and looked as advertised, making smart plays all over the court and showing his nifty touch as a scorer. The rookie had four points, three rebounds, four assists and three steals in 12 minutes. He played ahead of Elie Okobo and Tyler Johnson, who both did not log minutes.

Ricky Rubio had nine points and 13 assists, Dario Saric added 16 points and 10 rebounds while Devin Booker had 23 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Marvin Williams led the charge for the Hornets in the second half and had a season-high 22 points off the bench. Graham contributed 15 points and 13 assists as well.

In the grand scheme of things, zooming out from the context of how the game flowed, it was a huge win for the Suns.

They had just lost six of seven and were without Baynes, arguably one of their three best players in this no-Ayton stretch, at the start of a four-game road trip. It was the right opponent at the right time to bounce back against.

But with all that being said, the way the team has played in the last two weeks begs the question of how much is this is on the missing bodies and how much of it is on the team failing to consistently stick to a style of play that made them the surprise of the young NBA season.

Rubio said it himself after Friday’s loss that the Suns have to figure out which of the two teams they want to be, and we saw each version for 24 minutes on Monday.

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