Until the clock struck 5:00 in the fourth quarter on Monday, the fans in Chesapeake Energy Arena and the Oklahoma City Thunder team itself appeared bored with the Phoenix Suns.
When the clock hit 0:00, the Thunder had pulled out a 114-96 home win after finally turning on the jets late and making what was far from one of the worst performances by the Suns on the year look lackluster at best.
Kevin Durant finished with 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting, and Suns forward P.J. Tucker made his first start to help defend the fellow Texas Longhorn (the Suns’ defensive ace taking Shannon Brown’s starting slot is nothing permanent, as Paul Coro reported before the game). Russell Westbrook added 24 points and nine assists.
The Suns got a 24-point performance from Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat added 12 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t that Phoenix played poorly so much as the Thunder picked one spot to finally get a firm grasp on the game and another to put the Suns away.
Despite personal foul issues for the Suns frontcourt in the first half, head coach Alvin Gentry refused to go deep into the bench as the game remained close. Jermaine O’Neal and Tucker picked up three personal fouls in the first half, while Scola and Gortat each had two fouls going into halftime.
Because O’Neal had the hot hand in the first half, Gentry even rolled with a two-center lineup for a few minutes as Gortat reentered in the second quarter.
Michael Beasley didn’t play — Tucker and O’Neal ate up most of those available minutes — and Sebastian Telfair was productive despite suffering from flu-like symptoms. He led the team with nine first-half points and finished with nine as the Suns trailed 54-53 at halftime.
Finding themselves down by seven points a couple of times in the first half, Phoenix appeared about to give up one of those patented runs to one of the best teams in the NBA. Each time, however, they would avoid any deep wounds.
That trend ended in the second half.
Oklahoma City started the third quarter on a 12-0 run to force Gentry into a timeout less than four minutes into the period.
All of a sudden, the flood gates had opened, and while it was momentary, it was the first of two big runs the Thunder would put on Phoenix in the game. The Suns came out of the timeout more focused and won the final 8:22 of the third to trail 84-78 going into the fourth quarter. Scola was the main reason for that, as the power forward had 14 points in the quarter.
Phoenix came within two points, 87-85, with nine minutes to play, but the Thunder turned it on then-forth, outscoring the Suns 29-13 the rest of the way to beat them 30-18 in the final period.
In the Thunder runs, the Suns succumbed to turnovers. They had 15 total turnovers on the evening but that resulted in 17 points for Scott Brooks’ team.
Thirteen of those points came in the second half, and compared to the Suns’ scoring just four points off five total Thunder turnovers, the Oklahoma City defense was once again what won the Thunder a game that, otherwise, appeared to be a walk in the park.
Again, the Suns’ problem could very well be the talent level. They weren’t poor offensively and actually moved the ball as well as any game in recent memory for the first 38 minutes of the game. Phoenix hit 47.4 percent of its field goals, and got open three-point looks they generally didn’t hit, making eight of the 24 opportunities.
They did a decent job of winning the bench totals (30 points to 26 by Oklahoma City), as O’Neal led the way with 12 points and five rebounds. But it’s a bad sign for an NBA team one night before the year 2013 to have its fourth-quarter offense being run through O’Neal, and it’s a bad sign when one of the league’s bench scorers, Kevin Martin, scores six on 2-of-12 shooting yet has his team easily roll.
As has been the case during the now six-game losing streak, Phoenix broke down when it mattered most, making a solid outing for the most part look poor when the score went final.