Postgame Central: Suns @ Thunder - April 9, 2010
Thunder Down Suns, 96-91
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Kevin Durant scored 35 points and rookie reserve Serge Ibaka hit a crucial basket in the final minute, allowing the Oklahoma City Thunder to stave off a late rally by the Phoenix Suns in a 96-91 victory Friday night.
The Thunder limited Phoenix to a season-low 34 points in the second half but needed a late basket from an unlikely source to avoid a third straight hearbreaking defeat.
Ibaka scored inside with 33.3 seconds left to push Oklahoma City's lead to 91-86, after the Suns had closed a 12-point deficit to three. Ibaka ended up matching his career high with 15 points, and Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha also scored 15 for the Thunder.
Amare Stoudemire had 24 points and 15 rebounds to lead Phoenix, which took a step back in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Phoenix had won 11 of its previous 12 games and came in within a half-game of Dallas for second place in the West. But after shooting 58 percent in the opening half, the Suns were held to 31 percent shooting in the second half and scored only 12 points in the third quarter - the lowest total in any period this season for the NBA's highest-scoring team.
Durant, already wearing a wrap around his left wrist after a tumble two nights earlier, received treatment after he was kneed in the thigh in the third quarter. He still hit a key jumper with 3:37 left as the Thunder struggled to find baskets late and then finished off the game with three free throws in the final 20 seconds.
Russell Westbrook all but sealed the game with a block of Steve Nash's driving layup just before Durant's first set of free throws with 20 seconds left.
The Thunder had fallen to the No. 8 seed in the West after losing in overtime at Utah on a last-second non-call that the NBA later said should've been a foul, then giving up a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter in a loss to Denver.
This time, they were able to protect the lead late - but not without a scare.
Reserves Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic hit 3-pointers during a 9-0 Phoenix spurt that cut the deficit to 85-82 with 6:30 remaining, but that's as close as the Suns could get.
Oklahoma City forced nine turnovers while holding the Suns down in the third quarter and opening their big lead.
The turn of events was frustrating enough for Stoudemire that he drew a technical foul following a series of three straight turnovers - his own travel and offensive foul and then an offensive foul by Jason Richardson.
The Suns went another 4 minutes after that without a basket.
Durant had a two-handed, fast-break jam during a spurt of eight straight points for Oklahoma City, and the lead grew to 76-64 after Ibaka's steal and fast-break layup with 1:46 left in the third quarter.
Phoenix hit its first five shots and rushed out to a 13-4 lead in the opening 4 minutes before Oklahoma City charged right back for the first of 11 lead changes in a close first half. The Thunder then opened the second quarter with eight straight points against the Suns' reserves before Phoenix returned the favor by eliminating a nine-point deficit.
NOTES: Durant's 730 made free throws are the most in a season by any NBA player since Michael Jordan hit 833 during the 1986-87 season. Jerry West holds the record with 840 in 1965-66. ... With the Phoenix loss, every NBA team has now lost in the Ford Center. The Suns had been 3-0 against the Thunder and 2-0 against the New Orleans Hornets during their hurricane-forced relocation. ... With Nick Collison picking up three early fouls, veteran Etan Thomas got to play in the first half for the first time since he started in Krstic's place on Nov. 29. Thomas' last four appearances had come in games when Oklahoma City was either ahead or behind by at least 24 points in the second half.
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"We have three games left, and we’re going to try to win all three."- Steve Nash
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