THUNDER 109

SUNS 97
5 Three pointers made on the night by James Harden, on only eight attempts

5 Assists apiece for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook

9 Rebounds for Kendrick Perkins on the night, helping the Thunder get a +3 rebounding advantage

11-for-11 James Harden’s free throw shooting numbers on the night, his most makes this season in a game without a miss

21-14 Fast break points advantage for the Thunder on the night

29 Points for Kevin Durant on the night, in addition to his 11 rebounds

31-for-34 The Thunder’s shooting numbers on the night from the free throw line

40 Points for James Harden on the night, a career-high

The Thunder continues its road trip on Friday night in Sacramento against the Kings. Game time is 9:00 p.m. Central and will air live on Fox Sports Oklahoma and the Thunder Radio Network.

The Thunder then travels to Los Angeles to face the Lakers on Sunday afternoon. After that, the Thunder closes out the season with home games against the Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets on Tuesday and Wednesday.

GAME IN REVIEW


RECAP:
As James Harden explained to Thunder television’s Grant Long after the Thunder’s 109-97 victory in Phoenix against the Suns on Wednesday night, sometimes when a player is feeling it, there’s no stopping his scoring ability. One thing that stood out amidst an entire team victory by the Thunder was Harden’s hot shooting, as he went off for a career-high 40 points in his typical role as the catalyst on the second unit.

“Every time I come into the game I just try to be a game-changer, whether it’s scoring or playmaking abilities,” Harden said. “Tonight I just had it going, knocking some shots down and I just really got into a groove. Once any player gets into a groove and shots start falling, their confidence starts going higher.”

In addition to Harden’s efficient and surgical offensive performance, the Thunder really stepped up the defensive effort after an early double-digit deficit. Falling behind by 13 points in the first quarter didn’t faze the Thunder, which came out of a timeout to go on a massive run and eventually lead 29-25 after the first 12 minutes of the game. For the night overall, the Thunder held Phoenix to 41 percent shooting in addition to blocking six shots, making eight steals and forcing 14 Suns turnovers. After the game, Head Coach Scott Brooks gave the playoff-jockeying Suns props for their effort, in addition to his own team’s commitment to its core fundamentals.

“Phoenix came out and they’ve been playing good basketball, you have to give them a lot of credit,” Brooks said. “We knew we were going to be in for a tough game tonight, especially at the start of the game and they were going to give us some great effort. I thought that we did a better job when that second unit came in and really being physical and playing with more toughness and not allowing them to have open shots.”

All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 44 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists, while Harden’s 40 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four steals truly led the Thunder from the moment he stepped on the quarter towards the end of the first quarter through the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. What truly took the Thunder from the depths of a double-digit deficit to an eventual 16-point lead, however, was a masterful defensive effort by Westbrook on Steve Nash and hard box outs by the Thunder big men on the defensive end.

“They were getting easy baskets and we just stepped up our intensity level a little bit,” Durant said. “It helps when James comes off the bench scoring like that. It was a really good win, a really good bounce back win for us and against a team that’s trying to get every win to get into the playoffs. We knew they were going to play hard and we came out and responded.”

The response on defense and the intensity level displayed throughout the Thunder roster was amplified by Harden’s shooting barrage, which featured five three-pointers. His 11-for-11 free throw shooting numbers aided a 31-for-34 performance to boost the Thunder’s league-leading free throw shooting percentage on the season, in addition to helping the Thunder keep the scoreboard moving when it needed to get points on the board.

“It felt great,” Harden said. “Knocking my first few threes down, getting to the rim, getting to the foul line, my mid-range game, just the entire game felt great tonight.”

TURNING POINT:
The Thunder saw its lead cut to only one point at 73-72 with 2:21 remaining in the third quarter, but with only less than two minutes gone in the fourth quarter, the Thunder had built a double-digit lead. Thanks to a James Harden three-point jumper off a Nick Collison pass, a Kevin Durant driving layup and then a Durant to Derek Fisher buzzer-beating jumper to close out the quarter, the Thunder led by five heading into the final 12 minutes. To start the fourth quarter, Fisher drew a foul on a three-pointer and knocked down all three attempts, then Harden added a jumper and a reverse layup to bump the lead to 89-79 with 10:51 remaining in the game. The Thunder used that 16-to-7 run to get control of the game and its lead never dipped below eight points after that.

PLAYS THE BOXSCORE WON’T SHOW, FIRST HALF:
Serge Ibaka cleans up a missed shot thanks to a Kendrick Perkins tip, leading to an easy dunk, then Perkins makes a strong defensive box out that leads to a Russell Westbrook bucket… A skying Kevin Durant rebound results in an assist to Ibaka off a drive-and-dish… Nazr Mohammed flies in to make an offensive rebound and kicks it to James Harden for a three-pointer, then Harden boxes out, makes a defensive rebound and gets it to Durant for a bucket and the foul… Harden nails another three pointer them Moahammed snags a defensive board that leads to some slick passing between Durant, Derek Fisher and Nick Collison to draw a foul… Mohammed boxes out hard on the defensive end after the Thunder plays a solid possession, leading to a Harden drive and foul... Beautiful triangle passing between Collison, Mohammed and Harden for a layup at the rim, then Daequan Cook hustles around a screen to draw an offensive foul… Harden makes an alert steal in the lane and races downcourt for an easy layup, then Durant hustles by getting on the floor to grab a loose ball… Harden knocks down another three-pointer thanks to an offensive board, then he comes up with a defensive board that leads to a nice offensive possession that keeps the ball alive as Durant draws a foul… Ibaka, Westbrook and Durant all combine to fight hard for a defensive board, which leads to a Westbrook to Ibaka floater… Ibaka flies across the lane for a huge block to prevent a sure layup, then Perkins follows up his own miss with a huge block… Really smart move by Westbrook to wait for Steve Nash to go behind his back before making a steal and getting it to Durant for a scoop shot.

PLAYS THE BOXSCORE WON’T SHOW, SECOND HALF:
Lengthy one-handed rebound by Durant on the defensive end, then Perkins plays really tough defense down low to get a defensive board… Thabo Sefolosha and Durant both use quick hands to steal a pass in the lane, then Durant hits Perkins on a drive-and-dish for a potential three-point play… Westbrook and Perkins hustle to track down an offensive board, then Harden picks up a rebound on the defensive end before finishing an and-one in transition… Durant makes an emphatic block, then Westbrook comes away with a loose ball and draws a foul going the other direction… Durant and Harden pressure on the perimeter to force a steal and draw a foul, then Fisher makes an important defensive board that leads to another Harden three-pointer… Harden draws a foul and knocks down both free throws, then Durant hits Fisher for a bucket as the quarter buzzer sounds… Collison hustles to grab a loose ball and kicks it to Fisher to draw three free throw attempts… Harden takes a perfect Collison screen for a mid-range jumper, then Sefolosha forces an air ball and Harden slinks to the lane for a layup… Incredible instincts for help defense by Collison to draw a charge, then Harden sets his career high with his 35th point on the night with an off-hand layup… Great helpside defense from Sefolosha and Harden to make a steal, then Harden hits Durant with a pass for a massive dunk… Collison slips to the hoop and Harden hits him for a dunk and the foul… Harden does an amazing job of moving without the ball to free himself up for a three-pointer, then Sefolosha pressured the drive to force a turnover… Durant pops off a screen and Westbrook hits him for a three-pointer, then Westbrook snares an errant pass and takes it in for a layup… Perkins boxes out to make a strong rebound, then Durant does the same to grab his tenth rebound.



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