PHOENIX — The NBA is a star’s league such that it often seems like a pair of studs can beat a lesser team 2-on-5.
That wasn’t far from the truth tonight on the offensive end at least, as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook outscored the Suns on their own in the second half to take down Phoenix 102-90 in US Airways Center.
Durant poured in 41 on 15-for-30 shooting and Westbrook a season-high 36 on 14-for-24 to go with eight boards and five assists. After Kevin Martin’s 12 points (all in the first half), no other Thunder player scored more than five points, and in the second half Durant and Westbrook combined for 47 of OKC’s 51 points to best the Suns 47-45 in the half alone.
“We basically lost to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant,” said Marcin Gortat, who joked the only way to stop KD is by breaking his arm or leg. “These two guys were just outstanding and they played great. Just pick and roll between these two guys is just ridiculous. We were not able to stop these guys, that’s it.”
Added head coach Alvin Gentry, “They’ve got two great players in Westbrook and Durant and you can see why. They always put you in a position where you really can’t double team and get the ball out of those guys’ hands the way that they space the floor.”
The rest of the Thunder combined to shoot just 11-of-30 (36.7 percent) and did not make many offensive contributions aside from Martin’s solid second quarter.
It’s crazy to think that two players outscored another NBA team tonight by 19 points, but that says as much about the Atlanta Hawks as it does about how special KD and Russ were on this evening.
As Gentry noted, it’s nearly impossible for any NBA player to stop them one-on-one, and providing adequate help would mean leaving teammates opens for layups and threes.
Westbrook had his mid-range game working, as you can sometimes force into being a volume chucker who doesn’t pass to Durant enough. Not tonight as he hit 58 percent of his shots and still allowed Durant to put up 30 attempts.
Even with the KD/RW heroics, the Suns used a 14-4 run to close the third quarter to go into the final period down by just four at 72-68.
That was the deficit a few minutes into the fourth, when Hasheem Thabeet grabbed an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Durant for three. It happened again later in the quarter when down eight with four and a half minutes left Durant missed a jumper, Martin rebounded it and found KD for a back-breaking three in a fourth quarter that saw him tally a ridiculous 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting.
“We had our opportunities,” Gentry said. “We had a four-point game and we had a good defensive possession and then we don’t secure the rebound and they throw it back out and they make a three-pointer. That happened four times in the game tonight. If you are going to play a team of this quality you have to seize opportunities. I thought we had opportunities that we just kind of let slip on by, and it’s going to be really tough to beat a team of this quality if you don’t take advantage of those situations.”
Durant punctuated the rim with the highlight of the night when he drove past Michael Beasley on the perimeter and exploded to the rim before dunking right in the grill of Gortat. It was a superstar play and the perfect capper on a night the Suns just ran into two of the best players in the NBA on one of their better nights.
“Well first of all, I was looking for my car keys under the basket,” Gortat said. “I was trying to find my car keys because I lost them over there, so I was just looking for it. And Michael Beasley is going to get Krispy Kremes for the rest of the season for sure for me.
“It happens. The funny thing is that when [Kendrick] Perkins was standing under the basket he looked at me and I looked at him, and he said, ‘I know how it feels.’ He said, ‘Guards left you on the island, huh?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’
“Listen, it happens. I am not going to deny that was probably the top three dunks of the year, right? I mean at least I am going to be out there. I mean, I am just going to try to be silly about it. I am not going to cry. It is just part of the game.
“When he took off off one foot, I didn’t even lift my hands up, I already knew what was going to happen. I just tried to get out of the picture, or at least smile. It was bad defense, and then bad rotation, bad help. You can’t do anything.”
That’s about how the Suns felt overall tonight. They actually led 30-23 early in the second quarter over this weary Thunder squad that won last night in Portland before OKC quickly regained control by the virtue of a 22-5 run.
The Suns rolled out an eight-man rotation with Jared Dudley (right wrist strain) and Jermaine O’Neal (back spasms) unavailable. That led Gortat to play 46:27, in which time he produced 19 points and 15 boards and later said he felt like “a Vulcan of energy.”
Michael Beasley “was close to terrible today” offensively (his words, not mine) with 14 points on 5-for-14 shooting, but he also grabbed 11 boards (five offensive) and played with an energy that he often lacks. Since he guarded Durant for much of his 19-point fourth quarter, he wasn’t exactly a stalwart on that end either.
In the end, this game represented more of the same of what we have seen this season. The Suns played very well during stretches, and made this one close early in the fourth quarter.
However, they just never could match the opposition’s stars and ultimately made too many mistakes to upset a team like the Thunder despite how hard they played.
“We fought like crazy, but you have to play almost a perfect game to beat these guys,” Gentry said. “The one thing that I think is great about the guys in our locker room is that we are still playing hard, we’re still competing. We’re not about to quit. We’ll play it until they tell us that the season is over. We’re going to keep plugging away at it, we’re going to keep trying to put ourselves in a position to win games.”
- I recently learned that I misread Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ and thought the Suns cannot trade for Eric Gordon for the length of his contract after New Orleans matched the offer sheet he signed with Phoenix this offseason. However, the Hornets are only not allowed to trade him to the Suns for one year, so in theory if his heart is still in Phoenix this summer the Suns would still be eligible to make another run at him via trade.
- The Thunder have won five in a row in USAC, tying the Heat for the longest active win streak for an opponent in the building. The Suns last beat OKC on March 14, 2009, and man does that feel like a long time ago. The Suns have not beaten the Thunder overall since Dec. 19, 2010.