The Oklahoma City Thunder came into tonight's matchup against the Phoenix Suns needing a win to try and separate from the logjam in the Western Conference standings. The Thunder needed 43 points from Russell Westbrook and a strong defensive 4th quarter to defeat the young, athletic Suns 124-116. The Thunder outscored the Suns 64-49 in the 2nd half and 27-17 in the final quarter. The victory puts the Thunder at 37-27 on the season and moved them up to #6 in the standings.
In the first quarter, the Thunder defense lacked energy and the Suns looked like the team that was playing with a purpose. Offensively, OKC got the looks that they wanted but the pace of the game was definitely in the Suns' favor. The Thunder had no answer for Devin Booker, who scored 15 points in the quarter, and they gave up 59% shooting to the young Suns team. The Suns led 37-32 after the opening 12 minutes.
The Suns hot shooting continued into the second quarter, turning Thunder missed shots and turnovers into transition opportunities. The Thunder just could not string together any stops and the Suns' confidence continued to rise. Josh Jackson came in off the bench and instantly gave the Suns a huge spark. Jackson scored 15 points and he made six out of his eight shot attempts in the quarter.
The Suns stretched their lead to 65-53 with 2 minutes left in the quarter, but the Thunder scored on consecutive possessions after getting a couple stops. The Thunder trailed 67-60 at halftime. Russell Westbrook scored 19 points in the half and Paul George had 10.
The Thunder's struggles defensively continued as the second half began, Booker came out on fire, scoring 11 points in the opening two minutes. Booker's hot start opened up a 78-65 lead for the Suns. The Thunder and Suns traded baskets for the next few minutes of the quarter before Westbrook turned it up.
Westbrook put the team on his back and got the Thunder back into the game. He started by getting into the paint for easy layups, then got his midrange jumper going, drew fouls to get to the free throw line, and set up his teammates for open looks. The Thunder defense started piling stops and Westbrook's brilliance offensively got the Thunder back into the game. Westbrook scored 16 points in the quarter and the Thunder trailed 97-99 after three quarters.
The Thunder bench started the 4th quarter and the energy did not fade one bit on both ends of the floor. Jerami Grant tied the game at 99 after a tough layup, then after a steal, Raymond Felton threw a skip pass to Alex Abrines for a three and the lead. The defensive effort set up transition looks and the Thunder began to see shots fall. The Suns got back into the game behind Jackson and Booker, a jumper from Booker tied the game at 110.
Then, Westbrook took over in the clutch, scoring 8 points in the final 1:32. The Thunder trailed 114-116, then Westbrook took it to the rim for a layup to tie the game. With under a minute remaining, Westbrook drilled a three over Alex Len to give the Thunder the lead. After Westbrook made a free throw to give the Thunder a two possession lead, George picked Booker's pocket and found Westbrook for the final jam.
The Thunder shot 47% from the field and made 11 out of 34 from three. The defensive effort in the 2nd half brought down the Suns' hot numbers. The Suns shot almost 60% in the first half, but finished at 48%. The Thunder won the rebound battle and tied in points in the paint at 58. The Thunder also made 21 out of 29 free throw attempts, and forced 15 Suns' turnovers.
Westbrook carried the Thunder with 43 points on 16-of-25 shooting, 14 rebounds, and 8 assists. George scored 20 points with 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Melo chipped in 14 points and 8 rebounds. Grant had a great night off the bench scoring 11 points in 26 minutes. The Thunder bench scored 33 points on the night.
Booker was incredible tonight, scoring 39 points on 16-of-28 shooting, hit 6 threes, dished 8 assists, and pulled down 6 rebounds. Jackson scored 19 points off the bench. T.J. Warren had 19 points. Elfrid Payton put in 18 points with 10 rebounds and 8 assists.
The Thunder return to action tomorrow night on the road against the Portland Trail Blazers, who currently sit at #4 in the Western Conference with a 36-26 record.