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.

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