In an emotional game that saw four technical fouls, the Oklahoma City Thunder were able to cruise to a late victory over the Phoenix Suns, 122-106. The Suns kept the game within single digits most of the way, and got as close as four with about six minutes to go in the fourth. But Westbrook and Durant again made the difference down the stretch.
When the Thunder's best two players stepped on the floor, the Thunder went on a game-closing 14-4 run. Westbrook was driving and dishing, knowing that the Suns would be going all out to protect the rim. The Suns' conservative defense also let Westbrook get one of his signature cotton shots. Meanwhile, KD made big plays on the offensive and defensive end. In isolation situations, KD forced Mirza Teletovic to a contested miss, and forced Sonny Weems to lose the ball out of bounds. Offensively, KD hit a pair of threes. One was of his own doing, while the other was via a Westbrook pass. Best of all, KD and Westbrook integrated Kanter during the run, and he scored on 1 of 2 given clutch possessions. Heck, Kanter even ran out to stop a Teletovic three.
This was a really emotional game, first and foremost. The Suns have been notorious for getting in the Thunder's grill for the past couple of years. On New Year's Eve of 2014, Westbrook almost got into a fight with Alex Len over a loose ball. Nothing happened during the first Thunder-Suns meeting in November, but things heated up again in the second contest on New Year's Eve of 2015. Adams and Chandler got a double technical for shoving in the first quarter. KD was angry about hoe Westbrook wasn't called for a foul going to the rim, and yelled at the refs for a technical. Westbrook was audibly turnt up, talking trash to no one just to calm himself down. And P.J. Tucker grabbed Westbrook at the end of the game, leaving Westbrook angrily shouting as he went to the locker room.
Tonight was pretty much the same old story. With 31 seconds left in the first quarter, Ibaka made an and one shot on a putback. Morris wasn't happy about this, and slammed the ball into Ibaka's chest. Ibaka responded in kind, and both players were Ted up. Things continued with 6:13 to go in the third quarter. Chandler elbowed Waiters while setting a screen, and Waiters fell to the ground. Chandler rolled to the rim and got a foul. After the foul, Chandler clapped his hands and shouted with menacing joy. Waiters picked himself off the ground and started shouting at Chandler. Adams and KD had to step in and hold Waiters back. Double technical. Waiters would continue talking to the refs all night.
Stretch fours keep Phoenix competitive
One big advantage that the Suns exploited tonight was their excellent mobility at the four. Markieff Morris got the offense started early, and scored in mismatches whenever he could. I was particularly impressed with Morris footwork in mid-range, which allowed him to get off fadeaways and get to the rim on Ibaka. I even saw Morris score an And 1 over the outstretched arms of Ibaka and Adams. Just a really effective night from Morris overall, and you could tell that he was in the Thunder's heads psychologically. Disappointing ending for Morris though, as he got no possessions after the 3:14 mark.
Meanwhile, Mirza Teletovic was a super sub tonight. Teletovic is a European veteran that's used to carrying his team's offense with his excellent shooting. It was Teletovic's lucky day, as he got a matchup with the slow Nick Collison during the second quarter. Teletovic used his weight to bang with Collison and have his way from mid-range. Then, Teletovic used screens to get free. Then, Teletovic scored on mismatches with Westbrook and Waiters. When it was all said and done, Teletovic had scored 14 points on a perfect 5 of 5 shooting during the first seven minutes of the first quarter, and brought his team to within two.
The magic continued for Mirza in the third, as he subbed in against the Thunder's twin towers lineup at power forward. It only took one catch and shoot three from Teletovic for Donovan to call timeout and adjust. Remarkably though, Teletovic went 0-6 after that. With the more mobile KD guarding Teletovic most of the time, it was hard for Mirza to find open shots. I'll also credit Kyle Singler, who rotated to stop a Teletovic drive, rotated to prevent a Teletovic three, and trapped Teletovic for a early fourth quarter steal.
- Kevin Durant had a terrific night, scoring 32 points on 50% shooting. It was a refreshing watch after the Golden State game, where KD seemed to dribble the ball a lot. Tonight, KD did a lot of work off-ball, using screens to get open. The Suns committed to protecting the rim, so KD took only four shots in the paint. Lots of work using his dirk leg in mid-range, as well as a variety of threes. Solo shots, shooting around screens, catch and shoots. Phoenix really did not have anybody long enough to cover him. Defensively, KD was fantastic on Teletovic. On Tucker, KD allowed a few energy plays to happen. That was really the only negative of KD's game tonight, energy. At one point, KD was so behind the play that he let P.J. Tucker get a layup, and walked into the offense 10 seconds late. Just a footnote though.
- Westbrook's jumper was on today, as he went 6 of 11 from outside the paint. I was impressed with Westbrook's ability to find open shots, as well as work out of a post up situation. But because of the Suns rim defense, Westbrook was just 2 of 8 inside the paint. Disappointing, but Westbrook's 11 out of 12 free throws saw the Thunder through some hard times.
- Steven Adams had spurts of greatness tonight. The usual won tipoff, along with being a part of some great ball movement early on. Adams even stopped Morris on a couple of switches. I also remember a particularly tough offensive rebound that Adams grabbed over two defenders. Great screen setting, as usual. But late in the game, Adams ran into some troubles. In the span of two minutes, Adams racked up three fouls. (Not far from what Booker did.) One was for sticking his arm out on a Morris rip move shot. Another was for swiping at Goodwin on a drive. The last was really silly, as Adams hooked Teletovic's arm. During the same span of time Adams is committing all these fouls, he also missed a shot against Tyson Chandler point blank and bricked a couple of free throws. With 4:18 to go in the fourth, Donovan subbed out Adams and chose to use Kanter. Made sense though, with the Suns not having any scoring at center nor offensive threats in the paint.
- I appreciate Kanter's performance tonight, as he had a team high +29 +/- ratio. 11 points and 6 rebounds doesn't blow the world away, but I think his defense was acceptable. After all, Enes was on the floor when Phoenix went through a 6.5 minute field goal drought in the first quarter. Offensively, Kanter hit a three, hit a fade on Alex Len, and even had a skywalking statue of liberty JAM in transition. Also a nice score from Kanter late, as he fed off a Westbrook drive and helped the Thunder seal the game.
- Serge Ibaka had a decent 4 of 8 first half, doing his usual pick and pop thing. Not a lot of time in the second half. Ibaka was immediately taken out of the game upon his fourth foul, just seconds into the third. Ibaka made a return for the fourth, missing a three and blocking a goodwin layup. But overall Serge was disappointing, given the lack of aggressiveness late and allowed baskets from Morris.
- Remarkable game from Dion Waiters. The Suns would always commit a man to shutting down Dion at the rim, which gave him opportunities to kick to the corners. This left Waiters with three assists before he had even taken a shot. Waiters was justly rewarded for waiting, as his first attempt came on a fast break dunk via Westbrook. Crazier things happened later in the game. Waiters hit a stepback on Booker along the baseline. A Waiters drive sent another whizzing Waiters assist, but this time to Payne for three. Waiters stripped the ball from Morris, and got fouled in transition. On a drive, Dion was able to complete an "and one" play. Late in the game, Waiters played off of the stars well. There was a trip to the line in transition off a KD block, as well as a three from a lazer passing Durant. Heck, even Dion's defense was on point tonight, as Booker went 1 of 8 from the field.
- Devin Booker committed 3 fouls during a 80 second stretch of the fourth quarter, disqualifying him from the game. The first was a charge on Payne in transition. The next was for shoving Payne while playing off-ball defense. The last was for undercutting Adams on a rebound in the post. Booker's a rookie, so that's pretty much his "welcome to the NBA" moment.
- Kyle Singler had a pair of really opportunistic offensive boards for scores. One on a Waiters drive, and the other on a really thuddish Kanter shot. Also loved Kanter's defense on Teletovic. Other than that, meh. Didn't really do a lot to inspire confidence on offense. One shot was particularly terrible-looking. It looked as if Singler was spooked, and couldn't get the ball out of his hands fast enough.
- Cameron Payne nailed three triples tonight. One from a Singler Drive, one from a Waiters drive, and ran around an Adams screen for the last one. Also, Payne had a pair of assists to the perimeter and post. There were some struggles. I saw Payne lose the ball once, and he definitely got abused on a couple mismatches. But for real, I like what I see from Payne more and more every game. Heck, even rebounding his own three off the side of the backboard and dishing it to Kanter was nice.
- Anthony Morrow came in during the second quarter to make a three. He was subbed out shortly thereafter, only reappearing late in the third to miss another three.
- Like I said, terrible night for Collison. Defensive failures on Teletovic, and overthrew Singler on a post pass.
- At 15 made threes, the Thunder nearly doubled their average of 7.9 threes a game.
- The Suns had only taken four threes at the end of the first half. As a team, the Thunder did a terrific job of closing down the arc. At just 1 make in 11 attempts, Phoenix was well below their averages.
- Archie Goodwin was an unstoppable force in transition and when attacking the basket.
- Alex Len had some success with rolls and pops. Surprising to see him so good from mid-range, but it happens.
- 38 minutes for KD, which is too much....
Thunder Wonder: Kevin Durant, clean off of screens
Thunder Down Under: Russell Westbrook, kept us going during the game, kept us precise during the clutch
Thunder Blunder: Serge Ibaka, just because I think he should have an impact every night
Thunder Plunderer: Markieff Morris, in one of his last performances as a Sun
Next Game: Versus the New Orleans Pelicans, Thursday, February 12th, 7 PM Central Standard Time.
What did you think of tonight's game? Drop a comment and let us know!