EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Kelly Oubre Jr. has career night, Suns blow doors off Rockets at home

Feb 7, 2020, 10:34 PM
Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. celebrates his three-point basket against the Houston Rockets ...
Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. celebrates his three-point basket against the Houston Rockets during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX — The Houston Rockets have guaranteed that every game they play now for the rest of the season will be reliant upon one of the NBA’s most popular sayings, “it’s a make or miss league.”

With the Rockets playing no big men and stretching the floor with shooting at all times, they still need to make the three-pointers when they set ’em up.

They struggled from deep Friday night against the Phoenix Suns, and one of the Suns’ best offensive performances in a 127-91 win through a career night for Tsunami Papi showed what can go wrong in Houston’s experiment.

Kelly Oubre Jr. had a career-high 39 points and nine rebounds on ridiculous 14-of-19 shooting. He made seven of his nine three-point attempts, as many makes as the entire starting lineup for Houston. All on his bobblehead night. Not bad.

Head coach Monty Williams said after the game there were some tweaks they made offensively, and Devin Booker said the goal was to punish Houston for switching defensively.

They sure did.

Phoenix converted on the first eight shots they attempted, five of those from three-point range. They shot 8-of-10 from deep in the first quarter, tied a franchise record with 46 points and were up 20 through the first 12 minutes.

The Suns simply looked well prepared and didn’t butcher much when it came to the Rockets’ scheme on the other end. The help was there behind the basket when ball-handlers got beat and they contested well enough on the threes.

It was the most the Suns have executed a complete gameplan all year.

“We just had so many guys playing with great effort,” Williams said.

Inevitably, the Rockets closed the Suns lead to five points late in the second quarter, but from that point till the end of the third, Phoenix went on a 37-18 run to be up 24.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni responded by opening the fourth with five reserves, including three that hadn’t even played in the game prior to that. That got us to our final.

The Suns’ ball movement and overall fluidity was the best it has been since the early points of the season, where again, they clearly were in tune with what they wanted to do as a unit.

Through that, just about everyone including Oubre had a good night.

Booker had 33 points and nine rebounds, Mikal Bridges scored 14 points with four steals and Ricky Rubio dished out 10 assists with only one turnover.

If you take out Cam Johnson’s 0-for-5 night in his return from a 10-game absence, Phoenix shot 15-of-26 from three-point range. Even with 23 turnovers, they still managed that point total of 127.

For Houston, there was no Russell Westbrook for rest on a back-to-back so it was the James Harden Show.

Bridges defended him as well as about anyone can and Harden was off most of the night when it came to his reads once he beat his man and attacked the basket. A few times he tried to finish through good verticality near the rim, assumingly trying to draw a foul.

He was the only Rockets player to put up good efficiency from three-point range at 5-for-10. The rest of Houston’s starters combined to shoot 2-of-18. Harden finished with 32 points and was one of only three to reach double figures for Houston.

Maybe you want to point to luck and the “make or miss” thing there again, but Phoenix was rebounding the heck out of the ball.

That was by design through Williams’ message of not getting out to run in transition before they secured a rebound.

“We talked about no leakouts. We needed to have a high contest rate without leaking out,” Williams said.

Five Suns players had at least six rebounds and everyone in the rotation grabbed two or more.

It’s a heck of a win but it really doesn’t feel like much until it grows into something.

Phoenix has had its fair share of highs and lows this season, as Williams stated himself a month ago in his statement-only postgame press conference.

“Until we learn how to play the right way consistently, we’re just going to have a lot of nights like this. That’s the deal,” he said after a Jan. 5 loss to Memphis. “Until we learn how to play the right way consistently and follow a gameplan, we’re going to play well one night, then we’re gonna have nights like this.”

Since that, Phoenix has still been just as shaky and failed to find the consistency he desires out of his team through, to be fair, a whole lot of injuries.

The Suns were coming off four straight losses before this win as they start to see some of those hurt players come back.

It’s a tall, tall task to make it two wins in a row considering their next game is the next night on Saturday against Denver, but competing in that one and the next few is the progress that’s required.

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