Suns Defensive Focus & Points Off Turnovers Leads to Victory in Season Opener

Devin Booker Kelly Oubre Jr
by Cody Cunningham

RECAP:

The Phoenix Suns tipped off the 2019-20 season on Wednesday night against the Sacramento Kings at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Kings’ Harrison Barnes struck first, but Ricky Rubio was quick to respond with a reverse layup down the baseline for his first bucket as a Sun and the team’s first points of the season.

The Kings went up by as many as 11 points during the second quarter, but a run led by Rubio and Kelly Oubre Jr. brought the deficit down to just five points by halftime. While the Suns may have been down, the ball movement, active hands on defense and quickness in transition were all on display as Phoenix led in the majority of the statistical categories (assists, steals, blocks, free throws). They just needed their shots to start falling from deep and that’s exactly what happened coming out of the break.

Three-point shooting, defensive presence and the second unit’s grit all highlighted the Suns dominant second-half performance. Oubre swatted away Marvin Bagley III’s shot attempt to open the third quarter and officially set the tone for the remainder of the game. This was followed up by Rubio finding Oubre in transition for the driving layup to bring the Suns within just three points in the opening minute of the second half. Oubre was then called for a turnover out of bounds, but Head Coach Monty Williams used the newly-implemented coaching challenge to reverse the call and put his team back on offense.

That challenged seemed to shift the momentum and ultimately became the turning point for the game. The Suns received the ball down by six as Rubio found Booker cutting to the rim on the inbound pass for the easy score inside. The Suns caused turnovers defensively on back-to-back Kings’ possessions leading to an Oubre alley-oop and a Booker midrange jumper. The Suns found themselves on a 12-2 run following the challenge as their lead grew to four midway through the third quarter. But it was the Suns’ second-unit that took that lead to the next level. Jevon Carter hit back-to-back three-pointers to grow the lead to double-digits and the Suns never seemed to look back.

Phoenix pushed their lead to 19 midway through the fourth quarter and it was time to sub Booker back in the game to close out the victory. His presence was quickly felt as he hit a midrange jumper to push the lead to 20. His scoring mixed with Deandre Ayton’s defensive presence made for an unstoppable duo on both ends of the court. Ayton’s secured two more blocks in the final quarter, notching a career-high four in the game. Booker double his point total in the fourth quarter alone while adding three more assists to notch a double-double and secure 124-95 win for the Suns. 

KEY PERFORMERS:

Booker: 22 pts, 10-17 FG, 10 asts, 1 stl

Oubre: 21 pts, 9 rebs, 2 blks, 1 stl

Ayton: 18 pts, 11 rebounds, 4 blks

Rubio: 11 pts, 11 assits, 6 rebs, 4 stls

Carter: 11 pts, 3-5 3P, 3 asts, 1 blk

T. Johnson: 11 pts, 2 stls, 1 blk

STATS OF THE GAME: 

The Suns outscored the Kings 70-36 in the second half and held the Kings to under 20 points in each of the final two quarters.

The newly acquainted duo of Devin Booker and Ricky Rubio combined for a total of 21 assists. The Kings entire team only had 17. Rubio also tied Elliot Perry as the only players with 11 assists in a Suns debut. 

The Suns scored 35 points off of the Kings 27 total turnovers while the Kings only scored 6 points off of the Suns 14 turnovers. 

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:

HEAD COACH MONTY WILLIAMS ON HIS EMOTIONS FOLLOWING HIS FIRST WIN WITH THE SUNS: “It’s a cool time for me. A lot of firsts. First time I’ve done this without Ingrid [his wife], and that was just different. A lot of emotions, a lot of good stuff. So thankful my kids were there tonight for the whole game they got to see that. So glad I got to do that with this group. I’m just glad to get this win. I told our guys the professional effort that we have to bring tomorrow is at the top of my list. How we approach tomorrow, whatever we do, it has to be at a high level. We can’t have a show-up mentality. We have to bring that grit and toughness that we showed tonight.”

COACH WILLIAMS ON RUBIO: “Experience on both ends. You don’t realize how strong Ricky is until he’s getting by guys and holding them on his hip and finishing at the basket. He has experience, he has strength. The game has really slowed down for him. He’s one of the guys that’s in my head. He kind of knows the play calls that I’m going to call or somewhere around the area where I want to call a play. I’m sure the experience this summer has given him a level of confidence that really helps him right now.” 

AYTON ON THE KEY TO THE VICTORY: “I would say the little things, we did the little things. Running back, talking, keeping each other in check. Knowing personal when somebody is down. I might have not seen who was down but trust me, I saw guys in the corners talking, chopping it up. I am seeing the head-nods, I am seeing stuff I have never seen before.”

RUBIO ON THE WIN: “I think the way we came out in the second half, especially on defense, I think it set the tone for the rest of the game. We have a lot of potential, it is just one game. We have to show it every night and tomorrow we come back again, practice what we have to improve and get better…. Always the first game, there are big expectations and you the way we did it was great but like I said, of course it is a win and we have to be happy because we worked hard for that but it is just one win.”

OUBRE ON THE SUNS FANS: “They were loud, proud. They were a big part of the reason we got the victory."

WHAT’S NEXT:

The Suns travel to Denver for their first road game of the season as they tip-off against the Nuggets on Friday. Be sure to catch the action on Fox Sports Arizona.

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