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Thunder 117, Suns 113 — Suns lack toughness


PHOENIX — “You can overanalyze it all you want, but we weren’t tough enough,” Steve Nash said after the Suns’ 117-113 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder tonight.

The Suns were out-willed, out-hustled and as Nash said, they simply weren’t tough enough from the opening tip to the final buzzer.

Two nights after dropping their first home game in over nine months to Shaqtus and the Cavaliers, the Suns stepped onto the US Airways Center floor lacking desire and energy — evident by the Thunder’s 16 offensive rebounds resulting in 23 second-chance points.

Kevin Durant’s 38-point explosion certainly hindered the Suns’ chances at victory and the 15-point first-half deficit they dug themselves clearly didn’t help either, but the game ultimately came down to rebounds, and yet again, the Suns weren’t tough enough.

“At the end of the day, they made the plays and we didn’t, that was the difference in the game,” said head coach Alvin Gentry. “… The rebounding is starting to raise its ugly head and we have to make sure we take care of that. Sixteen offensive rebounds and 23 points against a team that is not a big team, they’re a small team.”

“(Rebounding) is 90 percent who wants it and 10 percent positioning,” added Channing Frye after the loss. “It’s something we’ve been talking about, and it finally bit us in the butt.”

The Suns were lacking that all-important 90 percent tonight.

They came out of the gates flat, allowing Durant and the Thunder to score 12 points in the first 2:30. Durant hit his first five shots and set the stage for what would prove to be a fabulous night for the silky-smooth third-year superstar.

KD had it working and his supporting cast did the dirty work on the offensive glass. At one point in the second quarter the Thunder owned the rebounding battle 21-9 — eight of which came of the offensive variety. The Suns’ lack of work on the defensive glass resulted in a 15-point second-quarter lead for OKC.

But that lead didn’t last long thanks to Amare Stoudemire , who finished the game with a season-high 35 points to go along with 14 rebounds. STAT took matters into his own hands and led the Suns on a 12-3 run that landed them down just 66-64 at the half.

After a fairly even third period, the Suns and Thunder were knotted up heading into the fourth. The final 12 minutes were full of Stoudemire And 1s and yes, OKC offensive rebounds.

With the Suns down 111-110 with less than two minutes left on the game clock, Russell Westbrook misfired on a mid-range jumper, but Jeff Green was there to clean up the mess, tipping in the shot to give the Thunder a three-point lead.

Steve Nash missed one of two free throws on Phoenix’s next trip down the court, giving the Thunder the ball with a chance to ice it. The Thunder got what they wanted — a Durant open jump shot. But the Suns also got what they wanted — a Durant miss.

But yet again the Suns forgot about that all-important 90 percent desire that goes into rebounding and allowed ex-ASU standout James Harden — who finished with 14 points — to corral the long rebound and dish it to Durant who drilled virtually the same shot he missed earlier in the possession.

Down four with 14.4 left on the clock, the Suns simply couldn’t muster up enough late-game magic to steal a victory.

The Thunder played extremely well, especially for a team coming off a back-to-back against the Lakers, but the Suns’ lack of hustle ultimately lost them the game.

“We just have to get back to that mentality of go getting it,” said Frye, who finished the game 24 points and six boards. “It’s just something that we’ve got to have and work on and understand that’s how we’re going to win the game is with the ball.”

For a team that thrives on playing with rhythm and speed, it is nearly impossible to win giving up 16 offensive rebounds. Not only is an offensive board and bucket a huge momentum changer, it slows down the pace of the game, which is something the Suns obviously don’t want to do.

They were still able to produce offensively — evident by the 113 points on 50.0 percent shooting and a season-high 35 trips to the line — but this one came down to heart and desire, and the Suns just didn’t have those two things tonight.

Gentry’s press conference was all of three minutes, the locker room was quiet and somber, and the Suns are in a bit of a funk. After playing 15 of their first 22 on the road, a long homestand was music to the Suns’ jet-lagged ears.

But they have dropped two straight at home and need to make the best of their time at the Purple Palace, because wins on the road are obviously coming at a premium (8-9 road record, six straight losses). The Suns will have a chance to right the ship this Friday when they host the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We have to come out Christmas Day and really have a sense of urgency and fight about us, and find some confidence,” Nash said. “We have to be bold and demonstrative and impart our confidence and toughness on that game because we should still be burning a little bit from this loss, so let’s use that in our favor.”

And 1

  • Amare Stoudemire was one of the few bright spots for the Suns tonight, as he went off for a season-high 35 points in addition to 14 boards. Tonight was STAT’s seventh-career game of at least 35 and 14, as well as his fifth consecutive double-double.
  • Nash also recorded his fifth consecutive double-double with 24 points and 12 assists. Nash now leads the NBA in double-doubles amongst guards.
  • OKC defeated the Suns for the first time since Feb. 14, 2007, snapping a nine-game losing streak to the Suns.