Oklahoma City Thunder 103, Phoenix Suns 96 — Tough loss in Westbrook’s return


The Suns led at the end of every quarter except the one that mattered. Phoenix suffered its first loss of the year, falling 103-96 in Oklahoma City. Losing a very winnable game was made worse by the fact that Goran Dragic left the game in the third quarter with what appeared to be a severe left ankle sprain. We will have more on Dragic’s injury as information becomes available. What is known now is that Dragic was immediately ruled out from returning and was ushered back to the training room after grimacing for few minutes while the trainers worked on him on the bench.

The Suns played valiantly in the wake of Dragic’s injury. They rallied around each other and played the Thunder tougher than they have in any of the last few seasons, and they held their own for three quarters against one of the better teams in the Western Conference. Phoenix was ultimately done in when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook entered the game with just under eight minutes to play and turned a six point Phoenix lead into an eight point deficit in almost no time. In the end, Phoenix lost its 11th consecutive game against the Thunder.

Eric Bledsoe stepped up in a big way, leading the Suns with 26 points (7-of-17 from the floor) and 14 assists. Bledsoe did most of his damage in the second half after Dragic went down, dropping 20 points after halftime. Without Dragic on the court, the Suns lacked some offensive creativity, but Bledsoe kept the Suns close and the offense potent by penetrating to the hoop seemingly at will. Down the stretch, the Thunder had no one who could stay in front of Bledsoe. He looked more like Westbrook than Westbrook.

That said, the Thunder point guard was effective in his debut. He had all the speed, quickness and aggressiveness we’ve come to expect from him. His only real shortcoming was an inability to finish contested plays at the rim. He seemed to be just a few inches short on his jump on a few drives, including a brutal missed dunk. He looked to be about 90 percent of his former self, but that can hardly be held against him in his first game back after nearly five months away from the court.

Also stepping up for the Suns was Gerald Green. Green found his shooting touch hitting five of his 10 attempts from downtown (21 points overall). He also led the Suns on the glass with eight boards. Green hit a clutch three deep in the left hand corner that cut the Thunder lead to two with under a minute to play. After a pair of Westbrook free throws, the Suns ran the same play, but Green stepped on the out of bounds line after the catch. That turnover, Phoenix’s 23rd of the game, sealed the win for OKC. For further analysis of the Suns first road game of the season, let’s reflect back on Kevin Zimmerman’s three preview questions.

If we set an over/under on Durant shooting 45 percent, do the Suns get the under?

The short answer is no. Durant had 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting. But I don’t put that stellar line on P.J. Tucker. In the past, the Thunder could be counted on to run a ton of isolation plays for KD, leading to a 1-on-1 battle with his primary defender. In the case of the Suns, this meant Durant locking horns with P.J. Tucker. As we discussed in the preview, Tucker relishes the opportunity to guard stars like Durant, but he didn’t really get much of a chance to in this game. Most of Durant’s points came in transition or off of ball reversal. The Suns played strong team defense for most of this game. The Thunder responded with much improved ball movement. The few times Durant did attack in isolation, he drew contact in the paint and went to the free throw line. This wasn’t really the type of battle we were expecting. But this is the kind of game elite scorers can have – 31 relatively quiet points.

Who wins the starting power forward battle?

Channing Frye made a statement in this game. The former Wildcat is definitively back. He dropped 19 points and hit 3-of-8 shots from beyond the arc. Frye came out hot, hitting his first three jumpers, all of which were wide open because Serge Ibaka refused to follow him out to the perimeter. The Suns would have continued to exploit that matchup, but Miles Plumlee was caught in early foul trouble which sent him to the bench and forced Frye into the center role when Markieff Morris came on. Morris didn’t play well in this one. He looked lost on offense and the Suns were hapless both offensively and defensively in the minutes Kieff and his brother Marcus were on the floor together. Frye, on the other hand, looked confident both beyond the arc and in the paint. He caught the ball down low with his back to the basket on a few occasions and was able to get buckets. Frye played 34 minutes on the night and there’s no denying the Suns look better at both ends of the floor when Channing is playing at the 4.

Does the offense improve its ball movement, and does that lead to made threes?

Yes to the first questions, yes to the second question, and a third yes for good measure. The Suns were lethal from downtown in this game hitting 14 of their 37 attempts, a mark which would have been much better if not for a very cold fourth quarter as the game was slipping away. As I mentioned, Frye and Green combined for eight triples, and P.J. Tucker and Eric Bledsoe each had a pair. Tucker is getting better and better every game at being a threat from the corner. Both of his makes came off of Bledsoe penetrate-and-kicks. If he can keep his confidence up, that shot will be a huge weapon for the Suns moving forward. Channing Frye, as he always has, is more effective shooting from the wings and the top of the key than the corner. The Suns moved the ball around the perimeter really well in this game and Frye knocked down the shots. Gerald Green was effective from every spot along the arc – when he set his feet. Green has a tendency, especially in transition, to rise up to shoot before he’s settled. That causes him to fade in the air one way or the other and affect his shot negatively. In this game, he made every single three-point attempt he took when his feet were set. If he can continue to hit like this, he’ll keep Archie Goodwin at bay and solidify his spot in the wing rotation.

And 1

  1. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin were both DNP-CD’s tonight. Slava Kravtsov filled in as backup center behind Plumlee. Len and Goodwin not getting into the game tells me two things about Hornacek. First, he wanted to win this game pretty badly. Second, he couldn’t trust rookies in a game in which the teams were never separated by double digits — though Hornacek held Len out because of ankle soreness, according to Paul Coro. Len has looked very raw and very shaky so far. Goodwin has been aggressive in his minutes, but not necessarily effective enough to play in a tight game, especially on a night when Gerald Green is on fire.
  2. After two straight impressive double-doubles to start his Phoenix Suns’ career, Miles Plumlee was held scoreless and frustrated by a very big and very physical Oklahoma City front line. OKC dominated the Suns in paint scoring 46 – 18. The combination of big body Kendrick Perkins and the endless penetration of Durant and Westbrook overwhelmed Plumlee who played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble. Miles was sorely missed on the boards and on offense.
  3. Ish Smith is crazy fast. If Dragic is out for any length of time, Smith will definitely see more minutes as the backup point guard. His speed is a great change of pace off the bench. He leads the break really well, gets his hands in passing lanes and doesn’t seem at all afraid of the moment. The Suns chose well when the whittled their backup point guard corps down this offseason.

Tags: Oklahoma City Thunder Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Recap

  • foreveris2long

    Fun game to watch because they continue to play with heart. Nothing to say about the Morris twins because they were wasted 1st round picks and nothing has changed They just do not do any one thing well. Bledsoe just keeps getting better. Green and Frye played huge and Plumlee was aggressive defensively. The bottom line is this team is going to compete most nights as I love the defensive rotations and lack of whining to the refs. Hornachek is doing a great job early.

    I do not know how many games the Suns will win but I doubt we will be the doormats we were last season.

  • Zack B.

    I have several takeaways from this game. First off, the Morris twins are beginning to annoy me. All they do is shoot, and inefficiently. I think we should trade them while they still have value. Secondly, Bledsoe continues his great play as expected. I think that’s his career high in assists. But another thing is the potential for triple-doubles he has each game. He was 3 rebounds away tonight. I think he was 1 assist away in a game while he was still on the Clips. I also like that he’s continuing to take threes. He wasn’t confident enough to take many in LA, and with a bigger role, it’s no surprise that he is now. I was so hyped after that one to beat the shot clock. On the defensive end, I haven’t seen him get a single block yet. Kinda surprising with these extended minutes. Plumlee was almost a non factor tonight, he played like people expect him to. Hope this was just a bad night. Lastly, Gerald Green should be getting more minutes, I’ve thought this before tonight. Dionte Christmas should not be in the game before him. Good effort, coming this close to beating the Thunder is satisfying enough.

  • Russell’s Suns

    Bledsoe needs Dragic on the court to be the primary ball handler, Bledsoe already has 18 turn overs in 3 games way too many. This team only has two guy’s that can make their own shot (Dragic and Bledsoe).

    And, I agree with others here, the Morris boys have struggled, it’s almost as if we need to trade one, we may get more production out of the other.

  • EBJM

    I know we want to lose but it is still disappointing, these guys hang tough except for the twins. Bench them already. I’d rather see Slava, Plumlee and Frye with a dose of Len to keep his confidence up.

  • Azbballfan

    Len is going to have to start and play alot to develop

    you cant just stick players in at 10-15 minutes a game and expect them to “get it”

    The Morris twins are inefficient, but look at their playing time

    hopefully Hornacek can develop and stick to a lineup and rotation that is exactly the same every game, barring an injury of course

    if you dont want to develop the morris twins, then trade them with Okafor for someone you will

    this whole rookie class this year has really struggled the first week, with the exceptions of Oladipo and Carter-Williams

    McLemore and Olynyk had good games tonight

    Len may be struggling with confidence right now but atleast he has looked better than Anthony Bennett who right now averages less than a point a game and 4 rebounds in 13 minutes of action

    i dont think its a coincidence that the players struggling the most right now are people coming off of injuries

    I never expected Len to play alot of minutes right away, but i do expect him to start games after the all-star break

  • Scott

    I don’t know if Hornacek doesn’t trust his rookies. I think he just didn’t want them to take any blame from the veterans for the likely loss.

    It’s important for the vets to know just how good they are, and honestly how much they need to improve, and not get caught up in thinking the coach wants to play the young guys and is under orders to tank for the season.

    That was the mood last year, after Gentry’s declaration, “I guess we’ll be playing the young guys now.”

  • DJsuns

    The Suns held their own for most of the game. The Morris twins were awful(nothing new). If the Dragon didn’t get injured we may have won. Bledsoe is awesome if only he could get his turnovers under control he will be a force to be reckoned with.

  • http://valleyofthesuns.com hawki

    Gallant effort by the Suns…Durant wasn’t going to lose home opener.

    It’s becoming obvious that’s it’s the Celtics who are the frontrunner in the Lottery Sweepstakes.
    Should’ve figured.

  • EBJM

    Suns always seem to put a new spin on something. If it wasn’t bad enough getting the lesser talented brother they now have two equally bad twins. The only other set of twins that sucked as bad as the Morris twins would be the Collin twins.

    We even had the lesser talented Collin, Jarron who goes out wearing a “I’m the straight one” T-shirt to distinguish himself from twin brother Jason.

    I thought twins were unusually close?

  • DBreezy

    As others have said, entertaining game. Not to take anything away from the play of Bledsoe and Plumlee so far, but I still feel the star(s) so far are Hornacek and his staff. He’s got them confident, organized for what they are, and their defense is solid.

    The Thunder didn’t play their greatest, but it was clear that they gameplanned for the Suns pretty well. Nearly half of the Suns FG attempts and makes were from behind the arc and the points in the paint differential was huge. The FT attempts/makes tracked as well. If I had seen the Suns 3pt shooting numbers in preseason and the first two games, I would have gone at that them the same way. We’ll see if the Suns can continue to make enough threes going forward.

    Bledsoe made a nice adjustment tonight going one on one more often vs waiting for the offense and screens to setup which often puts him in positions where’s he going up against more defenders and has tougher passing decisions. Frye playing better than the Morii isn’t surprising, but it’s disappointing nevertheless.

  • suns for life

    Bledsoe is the future

  • vtsunrise

    Best of all worlds. Suns played with confidence and heart. And lost. God forbid they win too many games they’re not supposed to!

    Hats off to Hornacek. He has the team playing with confidence and heart. Undefeated in summer league until the championship game. 5-2 in preseason. And now, looking like they expect to compete in every game, even if they’re serious underdogs in most.

    Looking down the road a few seasons, if Hornacek is this good as a coach and has a nucleus of good young and maturing talent, should lead to some exciting things.

    On another sad note, Nash struggling in his unwinnable battle vs. Father Time:
    http://hangtime.blogs.nba.com/2013/11/03/nash-story-looking-same-old-same-older/?ls=nbahpsplit1

  • http://none Sillmarillion

    Wow, Alex Len (top 5 pick!) now gets benched for 48 minutes in his 3rd NBA game. I really can’t believe how weak the Suns are drafting. Morris, Marshall and Len aka 3 wasted picks.
    At least Bledsoe seems to be a very good player (too bad he will be gone after this season). Plumlee’s game was disappointing, but maybe this is his real face? Who knows? Green is a positive.

  • SHWAGGERT

    It was determined before the game that Len most likely wouldn’t play due to the sore ankle. They could have went big at times otherwise. Put plumlee and Len or slava down low and keep frye out there too and just let him hover behind the arc for some kick outs from bled. With PJ at the 2 spot and guarding durant. The lane is then clogged a lot more on durant and Westbrook.

    I thought they did well though and also think things could have went a lot different if dragic never got hurt. Possible 3-0 suns. That’s ok though. Time for a new lesson. Bouncing back from a loss.

  • SHWAGGERT

    Interesting stat fact. Ibaka and Perkins combined for 12pts 11 rebounds and zero blocks. I think that says a lot about the D from our bigs.

  • EBJM

    I can’t believe the number of fans hating on Alex Len so early. Didn’t you guys watch the Jazz game? Derrick Favors was a #3 one and done pick out of Georgia. This is his FOURTH season and finally has developed into a starter. He grew into an NBA body as he is 6′-10″ and 265#.

    His running mate at center is a 2011 #3 pick, Enes Kanter who was given the starting job this season after letting Jefferson walk. He is 21 and Favors 22 I think.

    Alex Len is ONLY 20 years old and coming off ankle surgery which kept him off the court for the past six months. With Plumlee being healthy and far more developed and even with Slava who has an NBA body why do you people expect so much out of this kid already?

    Let him take his time like the Heat are doing with Oden. NBA bigs need time for their bodies to get into NBA shape so they can carry all that size. Look at Amare, he is through as a player after I think four knee surgeries.

    Andrew Bynum is being brought along very slowly because of bad knees. Former Sun Grant Hill lost half of his career because of his ankle troubles. Bill Walton has THE bad ankle history because the Blazers and Clippers demanded he play through his injury.

    We gave Lopez four years to work through his injuries and develop only to let him walk where he finally looked like a center in New Orleans and the Blazers went after him because Aldridge demanded they bring in a true center to play alongside him.

    Robin is the starting center on a Blazer team many predict are heading into the playoffs.

    Len doesn’t need to become a player until 2015 which will only make him 22 years old and the same age that Derrick Favors is today.

  • Azbballfan

    I agree

    Marshall and the Morris twins were drafted by totally different scouts and a GM, none of which work for the Suns anymore

    Len isnt going to be 21 until next summer

    There is alot of talent there, we just need to get him in games

    alot of players on this team are playing for their next contract, and the ones who arent are trying to stick in the league

    virtually ever elite center in the NBA right now had rookies seasons that were very ordinary

    Yeah if its year 3, year 4 and Len has not done anything then thats different

    players that could be a game changer on defense and reliable at worst on offense dont come around often

    besides this is a draft class where only two players right now are putting up big numbers

    this class was supposed to be weak and so far that has proven to be right

    we need to be patient

    Hey if the moves McMiracle has made dont work out, well then like everyone else he will be shown the door

    thats the way the NBA works

    but calling someone a bust after 3 games is way too premature

  • Ty-Sun

    Yeah, way too early to be worried about Len. But the Morris twins are another matter. They’re not bad players but they also don’t do anything especially well either. Because of that, I doubt they – together or separately – have much trade value unless they are “packaged” in a trade for one of the Suns few valuable players.

  • SHWAGGERT

    Co-sign. Len will develop into a solid starting big. Give it time people. On a side note, big man shaq already popped lens “shaqtin a fool” cherry. Lol I do see his potential but at 7’1″ how do you get stuffed by the rim on an open dunk. I’m sure rookie butterflies kicked in but damn. Luckily it was preseason. The look on hornaceks face. Lol

  • SueB

    The Suns were one stupid ref letting the ball hit him and stay in-bounds (which I’m not even sure it did) away from having legit shot at the win. That’s the way the ball bounces. Can’t blame the Suns’ success on playing a crap team this time, although the Thunder did seem a bit out of sync. I’d like to think the Suns had something to do with that though.

    Love the enthusiasm and energy. Hate Goran’s on-going bad luck. Hope that ankle is okay. It didn’t look great.

  • Voqar

    Decent game. Way too many unforced/stupid turnovers – which, ended up giving the game away.

    Morris twins playing at the same time or at all seemed to also help give the game away – they have just been bad to worse. They’d be tolerable with better shot selection – as in – don’t shoot unless it’s a layup/dunk or we’re comfortably ahead.

    If we’re seriously trying to win, they need to get the Morris twins to stop shooting long contested shots and/or very bad shots. Fast offense doesn’t mean jack up the first garbage you can hurl.

  • Scott

    The Suns had a ton of turnovers and still nearly beat the Thunder. Not bad for a team that was written off by the media.

    Also, it’s not an illusion that the twins aren’t playing well. They’ve clearly regressed to a point below where they were at last season.

    Markieff currently has a PER of 10.74, and Marcus has a PER of 3.05.

    It might be prudent to work with them in practice on specific defensive issues and set up specific scoring plays for each twin, and keep them both off the court until they have these down and are ready to perform. Otherwise, they’re just hurting their trade value.

  • Azbballfan

    The Suns organization picked up both of their options for next season so clearly they thought enough of them that there was a chance both of them could turn it around

    Marcus and Markieff are still pretty young players, and young players make stupid mistakes

    if i was the coaches i would encourage them to shoot less and drive more

    the mid range jumper is the least efficient shot in the NBA

    Channing Frye can bomb away from 3 because he is the teams best shooter

    thats what he does

    the Twins need to get back to their Kansas days mentality of low amounts of 3 point bombs and alot of getting the ball inside

    it doesnt help that they came into the organization at a time when the whole front office didnt look like they knew what they were doing

    marshall must have not shown effort in practice or something, because not only did the Suns not want him anymore, after drafting him 13th overall, but the wizards said good riddance as well

    Hope Dragic is ok

    looking forward to Tuesday night at New Orleans

  • mark

    Markieff was horrible last night. When he plays bad it makes both twins look bad. Marcus did not play horribly but he didn’t do a whole lot either especially compared to Green. But Kieff played so horribly that you say the Morri played horrible. Kieff made them both look bad.

  • EBJM

    Boston Globe reported the Celtics are considering taking a flyer on Kendall Marshall.

  • vtsunrise

    It’s a crazy mixed-up world. New power rankings have the Suns catapulting to #16 from 30 and the Sixers at #1 from #29. Can’t take the Heat at #5 – sweet! after Indiana, Houston and Minny.
    http://www.nba.com/2013/news/powerrankings/11/04/week1/index.html?ls=iref:nbahpt6d

    It’s gonna be a long time gone…

  • Foreveris2long

    It seems Washington is a bust no matter what. Apparently the culture is not conducive to players over achieving or at least performing to their potential. I foresee a coaching change in the 1st quarter if things do not drastically change. However on the flip side, Minnesota is out of the starting gates fast much to the liking of Suns fans as we own their lottery protected 1st round pick.

    Yeah EBJM the Celts are that bad where they are considering Marshall. Yikes!!!

    Antony Davis has to be dreaming of huge numbers tomorrow knowing the doormat forwards of Morris and Morris are coming to town tomorrow night. I know some fans talk about Coach developing these guys more but IMO there is very little to develop as they are not very athletic and they are kind of undersized to play the four spot on defense. Them and Marshall are prime examples why when you draft in the lottery IMO you should look for guys with a high ceiling despite certain flaws. Morris and Morris never had a high ceiling so I think there is very little to be developed on the basketball court in the NBA. Drafting based on statistics will get you Marshall and Morris twins.

  • Foreveris2long

    I confess to the crime of saying tomorrow twice in the same sentence.

  • john

    Regarding Bledsoe’s triple-double threat – He was two turnovers away from a triple-double last night. Oh, wait. TO’s don’t count towards triple-doubles? My bad.

    Regarding the Morris twins – They’re terrible, we all know that. I don’t believe the Suns picked up their options because they have faith in them. I believe they did it because they didn’t have a better option and at least with them signed to contracts, they still have some trade value.

  • Scott

    The Celtics are thinking of picking up Marshall?

    And critics complain about the Suns and Sixers tanking?

    Good grief.

  • vtsunrise

    There is an infinity of tomorrows in forever, Forever.

  • vtsunrise

    And I’ll try not to hit the youtube link too often. Man! I had no idea that thing would appear like a giant billboard.

  • Ty-Sun

    Since no one else seems interested in Marshall, the Celtics probably figure they could get him to sign a minimal non-guaranteed contract (especially since he’s already getting paid whether he plays or not). If he works out, great. If not, they loose almost nothing and they can cut him at any time.

    Under those conditions he would be a very low risk pick up for them… and even with all his faults, he can pass. I really can’t see him making Boston any worse than they already seem to be.

  • Foreveris2long

    That is good stuff VT.

  • vtsunrise

    Speaking of waiting forever, Forever, it just occurred to me, why don’t we have any contributors named “Vladimir” or “Estragon”?

  • DBreezy

    Vt,

    Think of how often we would have used YouTube during the summer on AZC when we were trying to force our way to 100 pages!

  • azbballfan

    Looks like no dragic tomorrow

  • Foreveris2long

    VT, those names would seem so appropriate for the hater or the cheerleader on board.

  • vtsunrise

    FYI, 4ever:
    Those were the characters from “Waiting for Godot,” in case you’re not hip to the existential Samuel Beckett play about waiting forever for God(to) to appear…

    DBreezy, didn’t I have a bag of youtube links up my sleeve in the Summer of ’08? It’s all a blur now… I know there was plenty of Obama love and hate and Olympic-length chatter. Ah, the good ol’ days… when we laughed when taunted that the Suns suck… Before they actually did.

  • vtsunrise

    Damn Autocorrect. GODOT. Not “Godto… ”

    I know we didn’t used to have that psych robotic evil all powerful non-mind-reading auto botch thingy back in the day.

    Speaking of autocorrect, please excuse my indulgence, but this is guaranteed to make you laugh so loud or so hard, you might cry or pee yer britches.
    http://funkypickens.com/25-funny-auto-correct-fails/

  • foreveris2long

    VT, Excuse me for being the village idiot, I thought they were names associated with someone being overly optimistic and sadly pessimistic. Auto correct “dead husband” instead of “dear husband” was classic.

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