The Phoenix Suns began their quest for a first NBA Championship with a hard fought, 108-104 win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night that had the whole world watching on. The team finally getting a chance to show what they’re all about on the court and as a unit.
For the most part the rotation played exactly as we thought it would be, and in the best way. Although it was a shame to see Bradley Beal ruled out because of a tweak in his back, the Suns kept on rolling behind the 32 points, eight assists and six rebounds of Devin Booker.
The team also got a surprise offensive boost from one of their role players, with Josh Okogie chipping in with a huge 17 points.
There had been much talk before the game about who the Suns’ fifth starter would be, with some feeling Grayson Allen was the natural choice. It always felt like the position was Okogie’s to lose, although the fact Beal was unavailable made the selection process easier for head coach Frank Vogel.
Both Okogie and Allen started, with the former putting fourth a superb defensive display. Alongside center Drew Eubanks, Okogie was everything the Suns needs in a role player on that end. He worked his tail off and annoyed the bigger names that he was guarding on the Warriors’ side.
Okogie finished the game with a rating of plus two, tied for the second highest of the starters, behind only the impervious Booker (plus five). He was also on the court in crunch time, while also finding himself out there when the Suns made the decision early in the game to rest both Booker and Kevin Durant at the same time.
Okogie’s 32 minutes played was the next highest behind Booker and Durant, although Eric Gordon also saw the court just as much off the bench. Of his 17 points scored, his single 3-pointer made came with just over a minute left in the game, to give the Suns a 103-99 lead. The player finding himself in acres of space in the corner – just as the Suns had hoped he would be.
He also shot 7-of-9 from the floor, and made both of his free throws. Given that there was a ton of star power on the court, Okogie was never likely to get a friendly whistle, and in fact he should have had more trips to the charity stripe.
The play in which he did end up going – an “and-one” that was waved off because contact had occurred around the basket before Okogie got his hands to a tip in, personified all that was great about his game offensively. He forced nothing, and created opportunities in the flow of the game.
This is a potentially huge development for the Suns, especially as Okogie will be thought of as one of the Suns’ premiere defenders throughout the season. All of Gordon, Allen and Yuta Watanabe would have been considered better offensive options, and shooters, but it was Okogie who shone through.
Just as well, given Watanabe finished with eight points and Allen went an awful 0-for-5 from 3-point land. The Suns ended up desperately needing Okogie’s points, and the prospect of inserting Beal in with this group instead of Allen is a daunting one for opponents if he can keep this productivity up.
Okogie won’t be expected to do this all season, but what a fantastic reminder it was from the player that he is a capable scorer in amongst of galaxy of scoring threats in the Suns’ ecosystem. In his closing comments on TNT, Ian Eagle mentioned Okogie as the first player after Booker who had helped the Suns begin their season on the road with a win.
Not a bad night’s work then for somebody lacing them up alongside Durant, who finished with only one point more than Okogie and like his teammate made only a single shot from downtown. The Los Angeles Lakers are next up for the Suns – and already Okogie is reminding everybody that his offensive play isn’t as far behind his defensive effort as we all think. What a night for him.