10 Rebounds for Serge Ibaka, including four on the offensive end
20 Lead changes throughout the game, which also featured 13 ties
25 Turnovers forced by the Thunder, who used eight steals to help score 25 points-off-turnovers
31-for-37 Free throw shooting numbers for the Thunder, led by a combined 22-for-27 effort by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook
33 Points for Kevin Durant on the night, in addition to 10 rebounds
36-26 The Thunder’s scoring advantage in the fourth quarter
46-18 The Thunder’s edge in points-in the paint, where it held the Suns to just 9-for-24 shooting
Nov. 3rd, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena was at full roar in the Thunder’s home opener, and down to the final seconds the team and its crowd exerted every ounce of energy they had.
Mental toughness and the grit necessary to grind out wins are two aspects of the Thunder’s DNA, proven over the past five years with Head Coach Scott Brooks’ group. In its 103-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns, the Thunder didn’t necessarily shoot the ball well, but it battled through difficult stretches and bid its time until it had the opportunity to make one of its patented runs late in the fourth quarter. With an 8-0 burst and a 6-0 spurt in the final eight minutes, the Thunder erased a six-point deficit with its defense and ability to knock down clutch free throws.
“Inspiring play,” Brooks said. “In order to be a good defensive team like we’ve been the last few years, five guys really lock in and play inspiring basketball on that end.”
The final thirty seconds of game time featured four free throws to ice the game from Russell Westbrook, who re-joined his Thunder teammates in a game for the first time since he was injured in the 2012 Playoffs. Westbrook said before the game that his only expectation was to win, and with a 21-point, seven-assist, four rebound effort, he complemented Kevin Durant’s game-high 33 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Thunder to victory. Beyond the win and the statistics, Westbrook was simply thankful to be back playing with his teammates and in front of the Thunder faithful.
“It’s a blessing,” Westbrook said. “You can’t take things like that for granted. Just the opportunity to get your name called and play the game of basketball is great… These fans have done a great job of being supportive and I’m thankful for it.”
“It was good for him to be back,” Durant said. “I know how much he loves the game. For him to come out and do something he loves after being out for so long, it was great to see him. The crowd was great. It was unbelievable. They are a classy group of fans that are always behind him and have accepted him so well.”
The fans not only stayed behind Westbrook on Sunday night, but rallied the entire Thunder team as it fought through a game that featured 20 lead changes and 13 ties. The Suns seemed to grab control, but then the Thunder broke through and built an eight-point lead with 2:19 remaining. A quick 5-0 Suns burst suddenly put the Thunder on its toes, leading only 95-92, when Derek Fisher made seemingly the play of the night, which helped seal the win.
Playing on the wing, Fisher anticipated a pass along the perimeter to his man, sticking his hand out and barely deflecting the ball. By sheer coincidence, the ball bounced off of a referee, staying in bounds just long enough for Fisher to dive for the ball and save it in bounds to a waiting Reggie Jackson. The Thunder third-year point guard hit Westbrook with a pass, whose layup was put back with a dunk by Durant to give the Thunder a five point cushion with just 32.8 seconds remaining.
“I was just fortunate on that play to get a hand on the ball and a deflection,” Fisher said. “It worked out for us. Those don’t always happen, but you just keep playing and see what happens out there.”
That play was a perfect example of the Thunder’s overall determination and the fight it displayed throughout the evening. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Thunder got the job done by forcing 25 turnovers, holding Phoenix to 40 percent shooting and winning the battle of points in the paint by a 46-18 margin. Although shots from the three-point line rimmed out, the Thunder hung in long enough to take advantage of its opportunity to strike.
“There was good intensity,” Westbrook explained. “Our bigs of Kevin, Serge and Nick did a good job of rebounding the basketball… We were just getting our hands on balls and trying to find a way to get in transition.”
The Thunder trailed 79-73 with 7:45 remaining in the contest after an Eric Bledsoe three-pointer, but suddenly the team used its quickness to get out in transition, going on an 8-0 run to take the lead. It all started with a Kevin Durant defensive rebound that he converted with a layup that was called good after a goaltend. Nick Collison played stout post defense to force a missed shot, then converted two free throws on the other end. Then on back-to-back possessions, Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson got fast break layups to put the Thunder up 81-79.
“It was just getting defensive stops,” Fisher said. “That’s what it generally comes down to in a game that is going back and forth. Which team can put together two or three stops in a row. At that time, obviously we were able to do that.”
The Suns never regained the lead but did keep it close, until the Thunder closed the game by making all six of its free throw attempts and forcing a turnover and a missed three-pointer.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Russell Westbrook displays quick hands on defense as he got back to strip the ball away on an opposing backdoor cut. Slick bounce pass by Kevin Durant to Serge Ibaka at the elbow for a jumper. Great on-ball defense by Kendrick Perkins to force a quick guard into a travel. Durant stays near the rim to protect and slaps the ball away off the opponents leg. Excellent hustle by Perry Jones to make the extra effort on the defensive glass. Steven Adams keeps the play alive by tipping a loose defensive rebound to Westbrook, then he tips in a missed shot on offense.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Smart move by Westbrook to sense a foul was coming and launch a three-pointer to draw the three shot foul. Switching on ball screens by the Thunder and active hands forces Phoenix into a 24-second shot clock violation. Really nice ball movement as it swung from side to side and then into the paint for an easy layup. Acrobatic play by Durant and Jeremy Lamb to tip toe on the sidelines to save possession. Perfect helpside defense by Westbrook forces a double-dribble.
“Our guys did a good job of adjusting and coming out and getting the win. The fourth quarter was some inspiring basketball on the defensive end.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks