I'm a young guy, so it's hard to remember the last time the Suns weren't in the NBA playoffs. But after seeing how they played tonight, the image of the run and gun Suns who always find ways to make their system work in clutch situations and dominate opponents is gone. It has been replaced by the image of the old Suns outright collapsing in the fourth quarter, with only Carter being an offensive option. Even Steve Nash, the eternal warrior, seemed to have given up on his team. It's the end of an era, folks.
As much as I love seeing the Thunder win a game in such high fashion, I really hate seeing it happen against a team that just plain gave up after three quarters. Regardless, there was lots of fun to be had late in the game, as it was probably the most ridiculous fourth quarter I've ever seen. Alvin Gentry called for three Hack-A-Shaq fouls on Perkins (with his team down by 15), Zabian Dowdell and Aaron Brooks were ejected for possibly scratching their balls, and Serge Ibaka got into a meaningless scoring battle with some guy named Garrett Siler. Yes, it's all true.
Without further ado, let's hit the recap....
You could tell how the Suns were feeling as soon as they hit the floor. Their game started off with a sweet looking mid-range swish by Channing Frye, and Steve Nash had a look of extreme aggravation and determination on his face. The suns were looking to win, no matter how big the odds against them. And, for a time, they look as if they might provide a serious challenge. The Suns played the game at their pace, rotating around the perimeter and setting pick and rolls. The Thunder always responded right back though, and used their size inside and Kevin Durant's offensive skill to keep up with the Suns. But the time the Suns started putting their subs in, things fell apart. You could tell that some players simply didn't fit in to their overall game plan.
Below: Quarters 2 and 3, Fourth Quarter Madness, Future Analysis, Awards!
In the second, the defense of both teams started to show. It wasn't exactly slow, but there was less scoring than usual. The Suns tried to catch up, with Vince Carter showing why he was half man, half amazing. he had 16 points on 7-10 shooting, and most of his shots were highly contested layups or turnaround shots. But, most other Suns were pretty ineffective, and the Suns weren't playing fantastic defense. Perkins continued to get easy baskets, and corner threes weren't hard to come by for the Thunder. Basically, the Suns defense seemed to consist of trying to trap the Thunder in a corner or fool them into a bad screen. It occasionally worked, but it's inconsistency stopped the Suns from getting any sort of run not propelled by sheer brilliance on the offensive end. And when the team doesn't have Nash on the floor half of the time, brilliance is hard to come by.
The game opened up again in the third quarter. Sure, there were a few fouls at first, but the game went right back to the all-out scoring battle that was present in the first. The Thunder kept a consistent lead and constantly threatened to pull away, but every time it looked like the Thunder might do so, the Suns found ways to score with Vince Carter and Steve Nash. The Suns also continued to force turnovers on the defensive end, when they weren't giving the Thunder free points in the post. Highly entertaining was a late quarter spat between Vince Carter and James Harden, where James Harden hit a three while getting pushed by Carter, after which Harden proceeded to push Carter before he got to the line on the other end.
The fourth saw the Thunder finally secure the win. The Suns were terrible offensively as they were not able to get anything going in the paint, unwilling to shoot, and prone to bad turnovers. This offensive implosion led to a Thunder run, but it didn't involve the Thunder doing anything different than they had all game. Dominate the paint, kick it to someone like Harden for an occasional jumper. It only got worse as the quarter went on, with Vince Carter losing his stride and the Thunder scoring at will. With the Thunder up by 15, the Suns tried the "Hack-A-Shaq" strategy against Kendrick Perkins, but he hit 5-6, and the Suns failed to score. At that point, the game became something of a joke, with the Suns only showing signs of life when Aaron Brooks entered with about four minutes to go. But the Suns still couldn't defend, and it was far too late. The comedy continued as Jared Dudley tripped over an official, some guy named Garret Siler and Serge Ibaka got in a meaningless scoring battle, and Aaron Brooks and Zabian Dowdell were ejected from the game for no real reason at all. The ejection allowed Royal Ivey to get free points on two technical free throws. The game ended with a layup that didn't hit rim by Nazr Mohammed and a running, leaning back shot from about 18 feet out by Daequan Cook. I think that was the silliest fourth quarter of basketball I've ever seen.
Moving forward, this win puts the Thunder only 3 games out of third place in the West, and 5 games ahead of Denver for the Northwest Division lead. It also helps them to a 14-2 win-loss record in the month of March, which is (According to Fox Sports Net Oklahoma) the best win percentage over the course of a month in franchise history, including the SuperSonics years. Too bad our losses were to Toronto and Memphis. The Thunder also now equal last year's win total with eight games to go. Not bad, eh? With their loss, the Suns are now 5.5 games back of the eighth place Memphis Grizzlies, and would need a miracle of a run drop for them to enter consideration at this point.
Thunder Wonder: James Harden, 22 Points, 7-9 Shooting, 3 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 3 Steals
Thunder Down Under: Kendrick Perkins, 13 Points in 14 Minutes, 3 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 1 Steal, 1 Block
Thunder Blunder: James Harden's Defense, Russell Westbrook's Turnovers, and Serge Ibaka's Late-Game Stat-Padding
Thunder Plunderer: Vince Carter, 28 Points, 11-19 Shooting, 5 Rebounds, 1 Assist.
Next Game: At the Portland Trailblazers, Friday, April 1st, 9 PM Central Daylight Time.