Phoenix Suns fall to OKC Thunder, give role players opportunities

Alvin Gentry used a game against the well-executing Oklahoma City Thunder to test out his pieces that had something to prove.

Phoenix fell to OKC 107-97 on Friday at the Bok Center in Tulsa, Okla., and the unusual suspects of P.J. Tucker, Wesley Johnson and Luke Zeller led the Suns in minutes played. Those three, along with the end of rotation players like Solomon Jones and Diante Garrett, got a bit of run as Gentry played around with his lineups.

The goal, it appeared, was to learn about the players Gentry knows the least about. And Friday also was a sound opportunity for those players to learn a bit about playing a well-coached team like the Thunder.

The Suns trotted out 15 players — not including injured guard Shannon Brown — and gave the regulars limited minutes. The result against a Thunder team that gave 28 minutes each to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook wasn’t all that shabby.

Tucker’s 29 minutes made sense to match up with Durant in his standard, never-take-a-day-off mode. As a guy who returns to the NBA with an edge as a physical perimeter defender, being part of holding Durant (if you can call it that) to 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting was a learning opportunity, if anything.

Meanwhile, Johnson continued his strong preseason by leading the team with 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting. He hit 3-of-5 from 3-point land.

Jones was active in 18 minutes of play, scoring 10 points and grabbing the same number of boards to go with two steals and a block.

Rookie point guard Kendall Marshall received a heavy share of playing time as well after not even getting into the Dallas game. In 24 minutes, he was scoreless but contributed three assists, two steals and five rebounds.

And Gentry’s few minutes being divvied out to Goran Dragic (seven), Luis Scola (six), Sebastian Telfair (nine) and Jermaine O’Neal (eight) was a sign that he already knows what he’ll get out of each of them.

Gentry gave 12 minutes to Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat, but 19 to Michael Beasley, the one probable starter who has the most to grasp as the team’s most dynamic player. He scored six points on 2-for-7 shooting, but he also had two assists and two blocks, further proof that he’s trying his hand at more than scoring.

The Suns kept the game close throughout despite giving up 22 points to Durant and another 18 points and 12 assists to Westbrook. They trailed 24-18 after a quarter and 46-45 at the half, but the Oklahoma City offense finally took off in the third, dropping 36 points on Phoenix.

Phoenix held tough despite the mismatch of lineups. Both teams shot at 49 percent clips and the Suns hit 5-of-10 3-pointers — the attempts total certainly was on the low end for a Phoenix team. The Suns were getting beat up on the offensive boards early, but by game’s end were only out-rebounded 41-38.

With eight minutes to play in the game, a Garrett 3-pointer brought the Suns within five at 89-84, but the Thunder closed the game out with a 12-2 run to lead by 15 with four minutes left.

But the key on Friday was about the audition for Phoenix’s role players — and for any additional signings the Suns decide to make between players like Ike Diogu, Jones, Zeller and Garrett.

If the Suns choose to go with a big man, they’ll have to decide between Diogu’s size, Jones’ length and Zeller’s ability to stretch the floor. Zeller took the second-most shots on the team (10) and scored eight points to go along with four rebounds. Diogu got the short end of the minutes on Friday, though he had thus far been ahead of Zeller in the rotation.

Meanwhile, Garrett backed up his growing popularity amongst the Suns’ coaches with seven points and five assists in just 16 minutes.

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Shannon Brown missed the game after spraining his ankle during Phoenix’s last game against the Mavericks on Wednesday. The Thunder held out regulars James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha, among others.

  • shazam

    this is the best suns site out there…keep up the good work

  • sun also rises

    I am ashamed to admit that I didn’t even know we had a guy named Solomon Jones on this team until I tuned in. Gentry having his own version of the 2K Rookie Showcase out there. Haha!

  • Scott

    @sun also -

    Solomon Jones actually has a shot at the roster, due to his defense and rebounding. If the Suns didn’t already have O’Neal, he’d be a shoe-in.

  • Jeremiah


    I prefer they have a lot of articles and it is usually good content to read. Also a lot more people seem to be on that site.

  • Keith Martin

    I wish I could have watched this one, but the impression I got was that despite the Thunder playing their starters most of the game, the Suns always had a chance to break out.

    If they had decided to go back to the starters at points like normal they would have won this game. I say great news, this team is starting to come together.

    As for the guys trying to make the roster I am partial to Ike Diougu and Diante Garret. Garret made marshall and Telfair look like a backup to him not the other way around, now I know it early, but the backup point guard needs to be good and we have been having issues early. I hope we sign those to for the big body and the natural passer/shooter.

    Good news all around in a loss.

  • john

    Bright Side has nothing on VotS. Keep up the good work.

  • shazam

    the actual content here in these articles is much more informed and the writing abilities here dwarf the bright side…the bright side has declined year by year…they used to be they are half a notch above bleacher and a notch below this site…have you read their stuff this year? with out pedigree…they had a writer last year that was good but he went to the national desk..this year its turned to crap

  • B. Cray Z.

    Have to side with “Shazzam” on this.

    Will Cantrell is way too arrogant & so is his boss Seth (a.k.a. “Phoenix Stan”).

    Mike Schmitz has a very good hoop mind & understanding of the game. Rest of the writers here are also good.

    Celtics signed “The Brazilian Blur.” They didn’t have to pay much. LB really wanted to come back here. That sleazy liar of a P.B.O. continues, despite cap flexibility, to veto any move that would help this team. He plays well with Dud & Gogi. Barbosa would have loved to be part of this starting unit. Beasley could have thrived in a 6th man role. Like Scott’s idea of the bench playing “small ball.” So, as much as I hate to admit defeat, there is no further point in my continuing my crusade to “reunite that killer bench unit.’

    • Michael Schwartz

      Thanks guys. There hopefully will be an article soon to provide more detail on this, but Schmitz has a good enough hoop mind and understanding of the game to have been hired as an assistant video coordinator for the D-League’s Bakersfield Jam. He’s still going to contribute video breakdowns of last second plays, new wrinkles in the offense and how a guy has improved over a period of time — which will now literally be professional quality — for this site so you will still see him around.

  • 5ko

    After Seth Pollac left BSotS(and stopped the suns podcast) and they changed the look of the site I can say VotS is the site i prefer. The guys here have much deeper basketball knowledge.

  • shazam

    seth is who i was talking about..hes still with them but he moved to the national desk and doesnt cover the suns…the new format over there doesnt enhance anything..the bleacher report puts out tons of great headlines to get you to click on the site but the content is non existent…thrown together so fast by people who dont even know who the expected starting 5 are..thay consistently have dudley slated to be on the bench to start the season…look at the article bright side has up today…great headline but the content is retread from an article already posted there a week ago…headline driven sites are just trying to get hits to show advertisers etc.

  • suns68

    I was a big fan of Bright Side until their redesign rendered the site unusable for my mobile phone.

  • Scott

    Congrats to Schmitz! :)

  • shazam

    headlines and article content are usually 2 different desks. because they are different skill sets..this site would have more traffic if they had better headlines…the content is so good here that if they sensationalized people more they would click the site and then become a regular..i have a friend who has been a suns fan forever and he didnt know this site existed..when i showed it to him he flipped…hes a regular now