Oklahoma City Thunder 107, Phoenix Suns 97 -- Defensive roller coaster continues


Westbrook and the Thunder got into the paint at will against Dudley and the Suns. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Westbrook and the Thunder got into the paint at will against Dudley and the Suns. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

After an incredibly impressive defensive performance last night in New Orleans, the Phoenix Suns crash landed hard in Oklahoma City. Though the score ended up as only a 10-point differential, the game definitely looked and felt like a blowout.

Coming off their first win of the season, the Suns faced a back-to-back for the first time this year. The wear and tear of two games in a row showed, especially on older veterans Steve Nash and Grant Hill. The pair shot just 5-for-18 from the floor.

“Well, I think it hurts guys like Grant (Hill) and Steve (Nash) obviously,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “We have to power through that. It is going to be a short season and we’re going to play a lot of back-to-backs. Tonight, we just couldn’t get it done.”

Oklahoma City, on the other hand, looked incredibly fresh coming off its thrilling last-second victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night in this 107-97 victory. The Thunder shot lights out for most of the game. Through the first three quarters, they shot better than 60 percent from the floor. They made just six shots in the fourth quarter, however, bringing their total percentage for the game to 53 percent.

The Suns’ defense was woeful in several areas. The most staggering lapse was in the paint where the Thunder scored 54 of their 107 points. Though they recorded seven blocks, the Suns were unable to protect the rim all night. Whether it was Russell Westbrook’s ability to get into the paint at will and cause disruption or the interchangeable nature of Oklahoma City’s roster allowing them to pull Gortat and Frye away from the hoop, the Suns’ big men were nowhere to be found as the Thunder threw down dunk after dunk.

The Suns were also abysmal in transition. They scored only five points all night on the run, while giving up 21, many of them uncontested dunks.

The final area where the defense was less than adequate was along the perimeter. The Thunder shot 8-for-16 from beyond the arc through the first three quarters (9-for-22 for the game). Many of these makes came on open looks because of lapses by the Suns’ perimeter defenders.

With 7:47 left in the second quarter, Daequan Cook connected on a wide-open 3-point off a pick and roll with lefty James Harden that put the Thunder up 42-31. Both Shannon Brown and Josh Childress went with Harden, leaving Cook wide open at the top of the key. On the wings, both Shannon Brown and Grant Hill gave up 3’s because they failed to close out after Thunder players simply exchanged places along the perimeter without even the benefit of a screen. It is evident the Suns need to communicate more on the defensive end if they are to prevent teams, especially good teams like Oklahoma City, from scoring at will.

For the Suns, the shooting woes for the starters continued. As I mentioned before, it was not a strong shooting night for Hill and Nash. Channing Frye’s slump also continued as he went only 1-for-6 in 19 minutes.

Their biggest struggle was from beyond the arc where the Suns were only 8-of-26. The Thunder will be happy with their defensive performance as Phoenix shot less than 40 percent from the field, but the defensive MVP of the night was the front of the rim. The Suns came up short on more than half of their misses, showing that their legs were not ready for their second game in two nights. Their tired legs also hurt them on the boards where the long, energetic Thunder bested the Suns 37-24. The sole bright spot from the rebounding statistics was that the Thunder managed only eight offensive boards, which was a far cry from the 24 the Hornets grabbed Friday in New Orleans.

Despite the dismal offensive effort through three quarters, after which the Suns were down 89-67, there were a few signs of life from the Phoenix bench in the fourth quarter. Markieff Morris connected on three shots from beyond the arc, including an “I heard him call it” bank shot as the shot clock was winding down. He also converted a three-point play on a strong take inside. He really seems to be getting comfortable on the offensive end, which is something the Suns will desperately need moving forward.

“Anytime I get a chance to get into the game, I try to play hard,” Morris said. “The game to me is not over until it is over, so I try to play as hard as possible.”

Ronnie Price was definitely aggressive each time he was on the court. He racked up five points and two hard fouls, one on Westbrook and one on Harden. His physical, attacking style is a good change of pace for Phoenix when Nash goes to the bench. Hakim Warrick also led the team in scoring, along with Morris, for the second game in a row, coming off the bench to score 15 points in 24 minutes.

The Suns won’t have much to celebrate tonight coming off this convincing loss to the younger, hungrier Thunder, but perhaps they can turn it around in 2012. They’ll get their shot Monday night when they host the Warriors in Phoenix.

Tags: Channing Frye Grant Hill Hakim Warrick Jared Dudley Josh Childress Markieff Morris Steve Nash

  • http://h Sun-arc

    Ugh. As in Uhhhhgly. The win against NOH was heartening, but the suns sure failed this test of this quick paced season. Hope they start clicking soon.

    BTW- this is the best, most complete recap I’ve read of the game. Well done.

  • Mel.

    Man. The worst part about these last three games hasn’t been the sense that the pieces and potential are there for more robust performances, but that they’re being completely stymied by these absolutely brutal issues with shooting.

    I can’t recall the last time a team of capable gunners went this cold as a GROUP; the embarrassment of the three-point shooting woes that were on display tonight goes WAY past simple issues such as shot selection and seems to be ingrained in a total lack of confidence or rhythm. Frye’s been spotty in the past, but seeing the whole squad take the short bus to clank city is particularly disheartening, especially when considering the team’s long and proud love affair with the three-ball.

    That said… it’s not surprising to get clobbered by a team as thick around the talent belt as OKC. Here’s to new beginnings on Monday, and a happy New Year to the VoS community.

  • KeZ

    I love my Phx Suns and i want them to do well….we all do, but i think it´s time to start rebuild halfway into the season and if we do, I really hope we get a high draft pick for the good of our team.

  • Scott

    @KeZ -

    We’ve got to give it a little time. The Suns are still in pre-season mode. They’ll need another week before they sharpen up, and in 2 more weeks they’ll get Redd.

  • Cam

    @Scott,
    If this season were running regularly I would agree with you. Unfortunately the compressed season doesn’t give the Suns that luxury. They may have started poorly in the past and righted the ship but circumstances like this season are rare so teams must adapt quickly. With the new defensive scheme being taught on the fly I fear Suns fans are going to see games like this one more often then not this season. Go Suns.

  • Tony

    It pains me to say this but this Suns team is garbage. I have no problem with them losing but to not even be competitive? That’s just unacceptable.

    I know some Suns fans will buy into the just wait for Michael Redd to come in and save the day, but hopefully enough Suns fans recognize this front office move as nothing but a public relations stunt to show they care about winning.

    Suns fans, we all need to boycott purchasing tickets to Suns games to help cut off some of Sarver’s revenue in hopes he won’t be able to continue to afford the team and thus sell it. It’s the only chance this franchise has of reclaiming an elite status in the league.

  • Zak

    Be careful what you wish for, Tony. If Sarver decides to sell the team because it’s loosing too much money, there’s no guarantee that a new buyer can be found who wants to keep the Suns in Phoenix. The reason the NBA now owns the New Orleans Hornets isn’t because a buyer couldn’t be found… it was because a buyer couldn’t be found who wanted to keep the team in NO. If Sarver decides to give up and sell the Suns, the team would probably go to the highest bidder(s)… no matter where he/they want to move the team. Do you really think that Sarver wouldn’t sell the team to someone planning to move it if they offered him enough money? And I doubt the NBA would be willing to step in again and buy another team to keep it from being moved to another city.

  • A-ROCK

    Why are the second unit players scoring more than the 1st string and still coming off the bench!!!!???? Fry do not shoot anymore 3′s until you know you can make them because I think your just riding a wave from the past years, and against a good rebounding team we notice the difference in rebounding also buster, your good for nothing so you need to recomend to the coach you want to run with the 2nd unit French Fry. Grant please do us a favor and retire or stop shooting and find your way to the basket by driving and finishing with a dunk or get on the second unit, your to old and week and your ruining your own legacy.
    Starters need to be
    c gortat
    pf morris
    sf warrick
    sg redd
    pg nash
    Period………………

  • sun also rises

    “It pains me to say this but this Suns team is garbage.”

    Funniest comment of the year so far. It doesn’t pain you at, since that’s all you’ve been doing since you first starting posting your negative trash on here last year.

    Points for actually trying to sound like an adult with the $arver boycott thing tho.

  • Evnerl

    The problem with the suns is OFFENCE, not defense. They have no scored more than 100 points in 4 games!!!! That is why i still have hope for this season, Dudly, Frye, Nash, and Brown are all shooting well bellow their carrier 3pt averages. If not, if Frye and Dudly shooting the last 2 years was only a fluke, and if Nash has finally hit the wall hard, then yes we are really screwed, but i still have faith that that is not the case. If the Suns had been shooting 35% from 3 (reasonable for any NBA team) and not the 25% that they currently are they would have been in every game and probably would be 2-2 or 3-1. Dont panic just yet suns fans.

  • http://godaddy.com Big Daddy

    God forbid that I lay my eyes on Tony. If I were ever blessed with that opportunity, I’d break those fingers for all the sh*t you write. I don’t understand why a hater like you is on a FAN site.

  • steve

    I’m with you, Evnerl. If the shooting comes around for this team, things could turn around quickly and we could put a respectable season together. Cold streaks like this usually don’t last an entire season, especially for proven shooters like Nash, Dudley, and Frye.

  • Tony

    Big Daddy,

    how am I being a hater moron? Funny how the people with the dumbest user names are the biggest idiots. Not surprising though, you and Suns Also Rises are so pathetic, grow up! I’m a big Suns fan, but that doesn’t mean I can’t criticize them. You’re probably too stupid to comprehend that.

    Zak,

    There’s no reason to believe a new owner would move the team. Phoenix is the 8th largest basketball market, so why would anyone want to move the franchise? It’s not that easy to do either. Look at what’s going on with the Kings. I do think Stern would step in and prevent that from happening if it ever came to that point. However I doubt it would ever come to that.
    Furthermore, I also doubt Sarver will sell unless he can make a profit, something that’s less and less likely as the team struggles more and more.

  • Tony

    A-Rock,

    I don’t get it either why Gentry continues to start Frye. Morris has played extremely well and deserves at least a chance to start.
    What I’ve seen so far comparing the 1st unit with the 2nd unit is that the 2nd unit is much quicker and more athletic than the starting lineup. Gentry needs to balance the lineups better. He should start Morris or at the very least, start Brown and put Dudley in the 2nd unit. The starting lineup needs that speed and athleticism because the pace is just too slow with the starters.

  • Scott

    Morris is not consistently outplaying Frye. Frye did 10/16 the other day. Morris did 15/6 and 7/9 in his best games. So it’s not crystal clear that Gentry should start Morris. However, Morris IS coming along rapidly, and it seems clear that he’s one draft pick that’s going to pay off. (BTW, I picked him for the Suns in the draft, and in 2009 I did not pick Earl Clark, but had picked Taj Gibson instead.)

    In other news, Minnesota beat the Mavs. Teams with older stars, like the Mavs and Celtics, seem to be starting slow, just like the Suns. I think it’s just that it takes longer for the older players to get into game shape.

    So give the Suns another week for their offense to awaken. Also, has Frye ever come out of pre-season hitting his shots? IIRC, it takes him about a week or two of regular season before they start falling. And Gortat will play better once he gets his thumb back. Nash and Hill are still rounding into shape. So it’s not exactly like we have to wait for Redd, but Redd’s arrival and the sparking of the Suns offense may tend to happen around the same time.

    I don’t know how many games they’ll lose before this occurs, and I don’t know if it will sink their season, but in terms of game play, it seems reasonable to expect that the offense should get better in a week or two.

  • Zak

    @Tony – I’m not saying that someone would buy the team and then move it. My point is that there are potential buyers in other cities that are already trying to buy a franchise in order to move it to their city. Do you really think that Sarver would turn down a huge offer from one of them if he did decide to sell? It is unlikely that the team could be sold and moved but it’s not impossible. I think the NBA would do everything short of buying the team itself to keep it in Phoenix.

  • KeZ

    I would like to see this starting 5 against the Warriors:

    Nash
    Brown
    Dudley
    Morris
    Gortat

  • Zak

    @KeZ – Morris will be ready for “prime time” later. His stats look good now but that might be because he’s coming in when the other teams are bringing in their second teams too. He’s kicking butt on them but he’s still a rookie and needs time to learn the NBA game. Throwing him into the starting lineup too soon might not be best for him or the team. But I do believe that if he keeps putting up good numbers that he will break into the starting lineup before the season is over. I also think that if you take Hill out of the starting lineup that you break the chemistry he and Nash have developed. Just cutting his minutes down per game might be a better idea. Tonight the present lineup and rotation seemed to work well. Changing things up too much now might not be a good thing.

  • John

    Go Suns

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    Zak -

    Even if someone bought the Suns from another city, they still wouldn’t want to move the Suns.

    Phoenix has always been one of the best NBA markets. A lot of sports owners don’t live in the markets that they own teams in.

  • Zak

    @ Lloyd – I’m not saying that it will happen. It’s extremely unlikely IMHO. But there ARE potential buyers out there that are specifically looking to buy an NBA to move to their city. Encouraging fans to boycott the Suns’ home games certainly could hurt Sarver and make him consider selling the team. But there’s NO guarantee that the buyer would want to keep the team in Phoenix. That’s ALL I’m saying. Then NBA has the final say on the sale on any team to any new owner and I’m sure they would prefer the Suns to stay in Phoenix. But if Sarver is financially forced to sell the team and no buyer comes forward who is willing to keep the team in Phoenix then what happens? The NBA can’t force Sarver to keep loosing money just because he can’t find a buyer that will keep the team in Phoenix. And if the fans stop coming to the games, as Tony suggests, why would a potential buyer even want to keep the Suns in Phoenix? Even if the team plays badly, it’s fan attendance that makes a team valuable to any owner in any city. As long as there are fans in the stands, the Suns will be staying in Phoenix.

  • Lloyd I. Cadle

    We are going to the game Friday night against Portland and we bought tickets to another game this month. We are looking forward to seeing Rookie of the Year Morris!