PHOENIX — 48 hours and a return to retro threads didn’t change much at US Airways Center, other than reaffirming how big the gap is between the reigning Western Conference champions and the painfully overmatched Phoenix Suns.
Fresh off Friday’s 127-96 throttling of Phoenix, a less-than-stellar Thunder squad had no problem in their final trip to the Valley in 2012-13, using two big runs to end the first (8-2) and second quarters (16-2) en route to a season sweep-clinching 97-69 win
Phoenix’s 69 total points were the second fewest in franchise history, falling just one point shy of the record set against the Kansas City Kings back in 1981.
“Where do I start?” interim head coach Lindsey Hunter posed to the media following the embarrassing 28-point rout. “We got that out of the way, hopefully. It’s not a secret what happened. I think everybody saw we were outplayed in every aspect of the game. You look at games like that and you take it for what it’s worth.”
Two days removed from his best offensive performance of the season, Thabo Sefolosha had no problem seeing purple and orange, and for that matter black, again. Oklahoma City’s shooting guard took full advantage of open corner jump shots, and scored 11 of his season-high 20 points during a game-changing second quarter.
Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer at 29.1 points per game, was not in attack mode (18 points on 6-of-11 from the field) at the offensive end, but he didn’t have to be. Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins combined for five blocks, Russell Westbrook added 24 points and Scott Brooks found plenty of time to play his reserves for the second consecutive contest.
The Suns continue to try and embrace Hunter’s desire to play through the post, however it’s becoming more and more apparent that they simply don’t have the personnel to function inside-out. In its worst scoring first half of the season (34 points), Phoenix took 29 shots in the paint, yet Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola combined for six points on 2-of-10 shooting. To add insult to injury, Oklahoma City blocked six shots and had only three personal fouls through the first 24 minutes of play.
And while it might not be music to the ears of fans around the Valley, Jared Dudley’s playing time continues to dwindle since Alvin Gentry’s departure.
In the first half, Dudley played a little less than nine minutes, as Hunter opted to play Beasley big minutes (15:39). With Phoenix facing a huge deficit to begin the third quarter, Hunter tried to take a page out of the book he used in the team’s road win over Memphis: two point guards, one forward and two bigs.
The only problem for Hunter and Co. was that Oklahoma City had no problems facing an offense that featured Tucker and rookie Kendall Marshall on the perimeter. Phoenix briefly cut the Thunder’s lead to 15, but Oklahoma went on cruise control for the better part of the second half and notched their 10th straight victory over the Suns dating back to December 19, 2010.
“I can’t control playing time,”said Dudley, who sat out the final two quarters. “When I’m out there I’m going to play the right way. I’m not going to just throw up shots because we’re losing. That’s not my style of play. Coaches are paid to coach and I’m paid to play, so when I’m out there I’m going to give 100 percent.”
During his pregame media session, Hunter said the biggest difference between the two teams was the Thunder’s championship-caliber intensity, and boy did he ever foreshadow Sunday’s lob-sided affair. Aside from their woes in the paint, the Suns failed to illustrate any sense of urgency despite facing one of the league’s best teams.
From dreadful perimeter defense to numerous missed layups to boneheaded turnovers (shot clock violations and passes with no direct targets just to name a few), the Suns never even gave themselves a chance to stay competitive against Oklahoma City and appeared apathetic throughout.
“You always expect if you got in a fight to come back the next day and put up a better effort,” said Dudley. “And obviously today was the same [as last game] if not worse because you’re at home and following what just occurred Friday.
“I’m definitely embarrassed. You’ve got to play better than that. If I could I would give the fans back their money.”
After losing back-to-back games to the Thunder by a staggering 59 points, the question remains where does Phoenix even go from here?
“You move on,” said Hunter. “We have to start getting ready for the Lakers. That is over with. I look at it as one game and I told the guys, ‘it’s one game.’ I have seen worse. I have been part of worse.”
- The Suns starters set a new season-low for total combined points with 26. The previous mark was set Friday against Oklahoma City (30) and before that in the team’s 40-point loss to Detroit (33) back on November 28.
- Lindsey Hunter noted before Sunday’s contest that he had been reading legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh’s book on leadership philosophy. Hunter, who played under the likes of Phil Jackson and Larry Brown, said he had also previously read Tony Dungy’s “Quiet Strength”. While Hunter’s coaching career is still on the ground floor, he said the methods to their madness are still applicable to his current situation.
- While Phoenix narrowly avoided one franchise-low against Oklahoma City, they couldn’t avoid history entirely. The Thunder’s seven personal fouls were the fewest by a Suns opponent since the organization’s inception in 1968.