After the disappointing performance against the New Orleans Hornets (17-33), the Phoenix Suns Friday crumbled vs. an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is now 23-3 at home this year.
The Thunder certainly lived up to their reputation as an offensive juggernaut. Durant had yet another explosive outing with 21 points, which is not all that surprising considering his quest for a fourth-straight scoring title.
The real disconcerting outcome of this game for the Suns was the fact that five Thunder players scored in double figures. Russell Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins complemented Durant’s performance with 17 points respectively. Thabo Sefolosha also added a season-high 18 points to Oklahoma City’s convincing win.
“It’s a matter of pick your poison with them,” Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter said. “They have a lot of guys that aren’t in the headlines but they do a lot for their team. Sefolosha is one of them. He’s a guy that doesn’t get the press but he knocks down shots, defends really well and they’ve got a bunch of guys that are co-stars that do a great job.”
The Thunder’s dominating second-half showcase was done with most, if not all of the Thunder starters sitting on the bench for the majority of fourth quarter.
“I love not having to play in the fourth quarter,” Westbrook explained. “It’s good for my legs and it’s good for my body. Scotty (Brooks) always says we have to be ready for the fourth quarter but we haven’t had to play one this week.”
Both teams displayed striking first-quarter shooting performances regardless of the Thunder’s 33-27 lead. The Thunder shot 60 percent from the field while the Suns followed slightly behind at 55 percent. Offensively, the most impressive stat was the 3-point shooting of the Thunder, who as a team went 6-7 from behind the arc entering the second quarter.
Despite trailing the Thunder 55-50, the Suns were playing inspiring basketball by the end of the first half. Goran Dragic and Kevin Durant led their respective teams with 16 points apiece. The Suns’ bench was the key to their manageable five-point deficit. Michael Beasley scored 11 of the 30 bench points for the Suns. By comparison, the Thunder’s bench only accounted for 12 points total. However, Oklahoma City led Phoenix 16-4 in fast break points prior to the start of the second half.
That’s when everything began to unravel for the Suns. The Thunder carried their 9-2 second-quarter run to the third quarter, overwhelming and outscoring the Suns 36-20. According to Thunder head coach Scott Brooks, the team’s cohesion, particularly on the offensive side of the ball, directly contributed to their crushing victory.
“We pride ourselves on defense, we consider ourselves a defensive team but this is one of the few games where you can say we won the game with our offense,” Brooks said. “We were clicking on all cylinders tonight.”
Marcin Gortat was completely nonexistent with no field goal attempt until the halfway through the fourth quarter. The only perceivable bright spots for the Suns were from Dragic and Beasley. Dragic finished the game with 19 points while Beasley ended with 25 points off the bench.
The Thunder ultimately dictated every statistical category in this matchup. The only number that was higher for the Suns was the turnover 16-8 margin. Not exactly the area a team would like to excel in by the time the final buzzer sounds.
However, Hunter explained that this game could be very helpful moving forward the rest of the Suns’ season.
“There’s no reason to hang our heads. They’ve played in the finals. They know what it’s like and a lot of our guys don’t,” Hunter said. “This will be a positive teaching tool for us. Something to learn from, something never to forget.”
Yet in the wake of this grimacing loss, the scariest element for the Suns has to be the notion of dealing with the same Thunder squad again on Sunday.