PHOENIX – Most everything went wrong for the desperate-as-ever Phoenix Suns. Thunder guard Russell Westbrook took his minutes restriction to mean he would best his career averages in a lesser amount of time. He ripped Goran Dragic on the first play of the game and finished with a dunk, then scored the off two more Phoenix turnovers in the first quarter alone.
Oklahoma City got what it wanted early, and Kevin Durant wasn’t even a major factor through the first 12 minutes. Russell Westbrook finished with 36 points, nine assists and nine boards. Kevin Durant added 34. Think the Suns would win?
The storyline felt like it’d become a similar one to the first meeting between the two squads. The Suns would never give up, and that was a nice tidbit for a team supposed to be sniffing around Joel Embiid’s sneakers. But they would lose.
On Thursday, they won — dramatically.
Instead, Gerald Green poured in a career-high 41 points with a hefty helping of eight three-pointers and the Suns blitzed the Thunder in a 128-122 win at U.S. Airways Center on Thursday.
Like it was when the Suns played the Rockets two weeks ago, a fast start wasn’t in the cards. Goran Dragic got picked by Westbrook atop the key seconds after the tip, and Westbrook scored on two more transition dunks off turnovers in the first quarter. Some way, some how, the Suns trailed just 65-61 at halfway by giving up 56 percent shooting. The defense wasn’t as bad as the score would indicate – though not great either – considering all the fastbreak points off turnovers.
The defense certainly didn’t improve to begin the third quarter, but the Suns steadied themselves behind a ratcheted up aggression from Green. He pumped in 25 points in the quarter.
And when he went cold, Dragic was there to spell him. The Dragon added 22 points, and the Morris twins also went at Serge Ibaka in the post to combined for 39. Phoenix would up shooting 15-of-27 from behind the three-point arc in a win that may have been a lot to ask for but was certainly necessary for the postseason hopes to be in a decent spot.
Can Goran carry the scoring load?
He scored 10 points in a first quarter and had 15 at half, carrying the Suns while Green waiting in the wings. Thereafter, Dragic had a rare disappearing act until the fourth quarter. He both struggled to operate the offense or score himself in the third, and Phoenix seemed set on force-feeding the ball into the post. The ball-denial by the Thunder caused the Suns to get into a funk until Green threes led to stops, and those stops led to more threes.
Dragic, however, turned it back up in the fourth, slashing to the basket for scores and then hitting a mid-range jumper with 45 seconds left that kept the Suns ahead by four. He finished with 22 points and six crucial points in the fourth quarter.
Side note: Green, oddly enough, didn’t take a shot in the first quarter. He didn’t take a shot until five minutes had expired in the second quarter.
Which rookie center will have the better night?
Alex Len played a solid first six minutes and held Steven Adams without a stat other than a foul. Phoenix’s rookie big man scored three points on a dunk plus the foul but quickly accumulated three fouls after Hornacek left him in the game – one would think it was a lesson in how to play without fouling, something the fourth overall pick from 2013 still has to learn.
Len scored six points and added three rebounds for the game. Adams was hardly used, and you can imagine why. Hint: three-pointers.
Can the Suns keep Ibaka from having a big night?
Serge Ibaka had an efficient scoring evening and scored 18 on 7-of-11 shooting, but he wasn’t overwhelming. The Morris twins handled Oklahoma City’s physical and long frontcourt just fine, hitting big-time shots in the third and fourth quarters. Marcus Morris hit three treys and scored 15 while Markieff bullied Ibaka at times, finishing with 24.