Suns 110, Thunder 102 – Shaq strikes in OKC

Posted by on December 30th, 1:08 am

Oklahoma City couldn't handle Shaq's thunder. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma City couldn't handle Shaq's thunder. (AP/Sue Ogrocki)

How old is Shaq again?

Officially 36, but he sure didn’t look like it during Monday’s 28-point, 12-rebound performance on 10-for-12 shooting from the floor and maybe more impressively for him 8-for-12 shooting from the line, an outing that helped the Suns cruise to a 110-102 victory over the Thunder.

The Daddy put up another stellar performance with extra rest with the Suns having been off since Christmas and continued his torrid play of late that includes 24.5 points per game his last six contests on 61.4 percent shooting to go with 9.8 rebounds per game.

“I have been telling my teammates all year, if they get the ball to me and let me do what I do then I can still put up those numbers,” Shaq told Suns.com after moving into ninth place on the all-time scoring list. “I guess because I am (36) they think that I am too old to do it. Guys were looking for me and I was taking the high percentage shots and try to keep my shooters involved.”

Shaq went on to explain how he feels the Suns need to play inside-out, like the Magic, Lakers and Heat did before with him.

“I think that is how this team should play, especially the way I am shooting free throws. It should be an inside-outside game. I have been in the league (17) years and been to the Finals six times, and that is how you get there. Once we do that and develop consistency and stop turning the ball over, we will be alright.”

Every time Shaq has a game like this you can count on a couple of quotes like that, with the Shaqtus explaining how he’s the lord of the paint, nobody can stop him, he’ll lead the way to the Promised Land, etc., etc.

In his game, however, I’d attribute some of Shaq’s dominance to the fact the Thunder play Robert Swift, Johan Petro and the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Chris Wilcox in the middle.

Shaq could probably dominate those guys when he’s 50.

But in this game with Amare in foul trouble much of the contest, scoring just 14 points before fouling out in 23 minutes, and Steve Nash leaving with back spasms nine minutes in, Phoenix needed the Big Cactus to lead the way.

“When Nash went down and then Amare got in trouble, Shaq became really our point guard and our scorer at times,” head coach Terry Porter told The Associated Press. “We just threw it in to him and then just played off of him.”

So everybody agrees it was great to give Shaq enough touches to dominate tonight, but I’m still leery of slowing things down too much with Shaq down low on a regular night.

When the Suns kept pounding Amare late in the Spurs game, they got away from what they do best, which is unselfish ball movement that finds the open man, something the Suns did proficiently against The Team Formerly Known as the Sonics.

But when you combine a Shaq as effective as he was Monday night with an offense led by Nash flowing freely like it did during the D’Antoni years, an offense we’ve seen a few times this year but not enough, their No. 4 NBA ranking in offensive efficiency will seem low.

The bench resurfaces

After the Suns’ bench scored just two more points than I did against San Antonio, it delivered a monster effort to take down the Thunder.

Most importantly, Leandro Barbosa played 37 of the 39 Nash-less minutes and went for 10 points and five assists. Somehow he managed to steal six basketballs as well, and when’s the last time a Suns reserve did something like that?

A game after going scoreless, Matt Barnes delivered 19 huge points and six boards, including three triples. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.

Jared Dudley also saw his first action in Phoenix since a two-minute stint in his Suns debut, and he showed flashes of being a solid rotation player.

Dudley scored just one bucket in his 10 minutes, but he somehow bounced all over the court to pull down five boards, and played some nice pressure defense in the backcourt to force a turnover. By contrast, Amare picked up just a single carom in his 23 minutes, and Dudley outrebounded Grant Hill in 26 fewer minutes.

Lou Amundson also pulled down four boards in 13 minutes, and seems to be a duplicate of Dudley in the hustling, rebounding, undersized big role, but from what I’ve seen of Dudley in the past the former BC star has a better offensive game. I could certainly see Dudley eventually eating into the time Amundson gets.

Maybe having guys like Dudley and Amundson combining for nine boards in 23 minutes will wake up Robin Lopez, who blocked a shot in three minutes, because if he doesn’t start boarding the Suns have options, albeit smaller options, that will.

Dee Brown also made his Suns debut, providing some nice energy and hitting a sick three with the clock winding down. Who says the guy can’t shoot?

Michael Schwartz founded ValleyoftheSuns in October 2008 and is the owner/editor emeritus of the site. He is currently working toward his MBA in sports business at San Diego State University.

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Tags: Bench · Oklahoma City Thunder · Phoenix Suns Recap · Shaquille O'Neal

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