4-for-8 Three-point shooting numbers for Caron Butler, who scored 14 points
7-for-11 Shooting numbers for Serge Ibaka, who finished with 18 points, five rebounds, three blocks and two assists
9 Assists for Russell Westbrook, in addition to 36 points and nine rebounds
19-for-19 Free throw shooting numbers for the Thunder tonight
33-21 The Thunder’s advantage in fast break points on the night
34 Points for Kevin Durant, in addition to seven rebounds and five assists
52-38 The Thunder’s edge in points in the paint, where it shot 26-for-34 and held Phoenix to 19-for-37
March 6th, 2014
PHOENIX – Let an NBA team get hot early, and anything can happen.
That was true for both the Thunder and the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, as Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club jumped out to a 41-point first quarter and led by 16 late in the third quarter, but a 21-2 Phoenix run to end the period flipped the script completely as the Thunder fell 128-122. Behind a masterful offensive performance early, the Thunder shot 50 percent from the field and only turned the ball over nine times, but Phoenix got scorching hot from behind the three-point line, knocking down 15-of-27 attempts.
The Thunder’s 118-116 lead with just over three minutes remaining evaporated due to a 6-0 Suns run, as the Suns scored on six of its final seven possessions to snatch victory away. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant combined for 70 points on the night for the Thunder, but neither was pleased with the team defensive performance.
“It’s just defending and being locked in for four straight quarters,” Westbrook said. “We had some good five-minute stretches throughout the game, but we have to play all 48 minutes.”
“Defensively, that has to be our identity,” Westbrook continued. “We can score with the best of them and can score on anybody, anytime, but we have to be able to stop people from scoring.”
Behind the Suns’ Gerald Green’s 41 points on 8-for-13 three-point shooting, including 25 in the third quarter alone, Phoenix gave itself a chance to get back in the game with its offense. Late shot attempts by Durant and Westbrook that could have cut the deficit to one point rattled out, including a Westbrook three-pointer that was halfway down before spinning out.
The game was decided, however, by the Thunder not executing its defensive possessions up to its normal standards. Suns guards had more room to operate in the lane than normal, forcing help defense to come over from the wings, which left shooters available for open looks. Moving forward, the Thunder has to communicate on its coverages, fight through screens in the pick-and-roll and close out hard on shooters to contest shots or force drives. It’s a five-man effort that the team will look at over the next two days before it plays again on Sunday afternoon.
“We just have to figure out how to be better on how we make the second and third efforts and contesting shots,” Durant said. “Trap the ball, contest the shots and get back into the paint. It’s difficult, but we can do it.”
Offense was no problem for the Thunder tonight. Durant scored 34 points on 12-for-24 shooting in addition to grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out five assists. Serge Ibaka racked up 18 points on 7-for-11 shooting, while newcomer Caron Butler hit four of his eight three-point attempts en route to 14 points.
The catalyst for the Thunder all night, however, was Westbrook, whose energy was relentless throughout the game. From the very first possession, when he craftily poked the ball out of Goran Dragic’s hands and sprinted home for a slam dunk, all the way to the fourth quarter when he got to the rim and knocked down a big three-pointer, Westbrook’s attitude and toughness was palpable, and gave the Thunder a chance. He finished with 36 points, nine assists, nine rebounds and four steals in just 30 minutes of action.
“(Westbrook’s energy) was great every time he stepped on the floor,” Durant said. “He did a great job of getting us back into that game and making plays on both ends of the floor to start the game. We just have that consistently throughout the game, no matter who is in.”
“(Westbrook) was aggressive,” Brooks said. “He was rebounding and he was passing. His turnovers were low. He was making shots and he got to the free throw line. He played with a lot of determination tonight.”
As the team continues to adjust to having Westbrook back while also missing Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha and adding Butler, it will obviously have to make sure everyone is where they should be on offense, but more importantly get all five players on the same page defensively.
Every team the Thunder faces will present them with a new challenge, but the self-aware Thunder recognizes that those aspects of each opponent are a test, which Brooks, his staff and the players will work through together until they solve it as a unit. Over the next two days the team will get right back to work and get ready for its next foe.
“We have to get back to our defensive disposition,” Brooks said. “We play against these teams that are small, fast and quick, we have to do a better job of communicating in transition. We got beat off the dribble too many times tonight.”
“These small teams that have shooting fours, they spread you out and they drive-and-kick,” Brooks explained. “We got beat off the dribble too many times and it allowed our defense to get sucked in for open three-point shooters. Those are correctable issues that we know we can correct going into the next game.”
The Thunder led 96-80 with 3:20 left in the third quarter, but the Suns rallied over those final three minutes to take a 101-98 lead heading into the fourth quarter. The 21-2 Phoenix burst started with a Markieff Morris turnaround jumper, then a Serge Ibaka turnover led to a Gerald Green three-pointer. Ibaka sank two free throws on the next possession, but the Thunder wouldn’t score again for the rest of the quarter.
Green made another three-pointer the next time down, the Suns made three free throws after a Thunder missed shot, then Green and PJ Tucker hit back-to-back threes, each after a Thunder miss. Two more missed shots by the Thunder closed out the quarter, and Green made two free throws to turn a 16-point Thunder lead into a three-point Suns advantage in the span of just over three minutes.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Strong off-ball defense by Perry Jones to body up his man, forcing an errant pass and turnover. Beautiful passing in transition by Kevin Durant and Andre Roberson to free up Serge Ibaka for a wide open dunk. Nice trap by Roberson and Steven Adams in the corner to force a turnover and a Thunder fast break. Great positioning by Westbrook as he boxes out and draws an offensive foul on Alex Len. Nick Collison stays strong in the lane and draws and offensive foul.
PLAYS THE BOX SCORE DOESN'T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Strong flare screen on the perimeter by Adams frees up Durant for a three-pointer on the wing. Adams then sets up Westbrook for a three-pointer in the same spot on an out-of-bounds play. Ibaka sets up in strong position on the offensive glass and draws an offensive foul. Incredible defensive play by Westbrook and Ibaka who tip a stolen ball to each other to start a fast break. Westbrook battles a much bigger man in post defense, drawing a foul.
“Tomorrow we’ll have to regroup, come back Saturday and have a quick practice. We know what we have to do, we just have to do a better job. I have all the confidence in the world in the group and we’re going to continue to work on the things we think are important.” – Head Coach Scott Brooks