6 Assists for Russell Westbrook, part of 23 Thunder assists on 34 made baskets

10Thunder players who scored on the night, also the number of Thunder players with an assist

15 Steals by the Thunder, including four by Russell Westbrook

20 Points for Thabo Sefolosha, a season-high and two shy of a career-high

20-9 Fast break points advantage for the Thunder, which held the Suns to 3-for-14 in transition

25 Points the Thunder scored off 23 Suns turnovers on the night

52.9 Three-point shooting percentage for the Thunder, including a career-high five for Thabo Sefolosha

69 Points for the Suns, tying a season-low for a Thunder opponent

Feb. 10th, 2013

PHOENIX – It seemed that throughout the night, the Thunder’s suffocating half-court defense didn’t allow a single clean look at the basket.

By communicating, fighting through screens and playing together as a unit, the Thunder held the Phoenix Suns to an opponent season-low tying 69 points in a 97-69 victory in the second night of a home-and-home. After scoring a season-high 127 points in its win at Chesapeake Energy Arena on Friday night, the Thunder showed its versatility by clamping down on the defensive end, holding the Suns to under 21 points in all four quarters. The focus and consistency Head Coach Scott Brooks’ club showed on both ends of the floor was impressive throughout.

“We talked about that before the game, we have to pay close attention to our energy and our focus,” Brooks said. “I thought the guys did a great job… Our guys did a good job defensively and offensively.”

While the Thunder can always count on its offense to put the ball in the basket, it hangs its hat on the defensive end of the floor. A constant theme for the team throughout the year is how it defends the pick-and-roll. Thunder bigs like Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka continually jumped out to prevent drives to the basket by Suns guards while Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha hustled back into position. By playing on a string and sticking to their principles, the Thunder gave the Suns no air space to feel comfortable on the offensive end.

“We were aggressive defensively,” Brooks said. “We were active, we were playing physical. We were fighting over screens. We were doing a good job on our pick-and-roll defense which is always a key indicator of how well we played.”

The little things were equally important on the offensive end as they were on the defensive end. Specifically, it was the screen-setting by every player on the roster to help free up teammates for open looks. The Thunder’s 23 assists, led by Russell Westbrook’s six, where aided by the fact that those on-time, on-target passes were able to hit open cutters or spot-up shooters without defenders within arm’s reach.

“(Screens are) very important,” Westbrook said. “I think everybody has a job on this team and everybody takes their job seriously. It was a good team effort tonight.”

One of the major beneficiaries of those screens was Sefolosha, who was on fire from three-point land throughout the evening. The lock-down perimeter defender knocked down a career-high five three-pointers en route to a season-high 20 points, just two shy of his career-high. Perkins and Hasheem Thabeet set up Sefolosha for flare outs to the corner, where players are most efficient from three-point range. Whether it was Sefolosha knocking down shots, Perkins shutting down the Suns’ Marcin Gortat or Westbrook pushing tempo en route to a game-high 24 points, every man on the roster contributed.

“Guys stepped up,” Brooks said. “That’s what makes us a good team. We have guys that can step up, guys that come off the bench and do a great job and guys that don’t get to play that are ready to play. Thabo’s defensive effort tonight and his offense was at a high level on both ends of the floor. He was making shots and making their guards have difficult shots.”

The best part about the effort Sefolosha, and every one of his teammates for that matter, displayed on Sunday night was that each man played within his role and to the team’s overall philosophy. By turning defense into offense (25 points off 23 forced turnovers) and sharing the ball in the half court after creating intense man-to-man pressure on the other end, the Thunder stuck to its desired game plan. As team leader Kevin Durant explained, that’s something this Thunder squad wants to do each and every night.

“We just try to focus on us every single day,” Durant said. “Playing up to our standards. Defense first. These last two or three games have been great for us on the defensive end, setting the tone. We have to keep it up.”

Turning Point:
It was 35-32 Thunder with 4:16 remaining in the second quarter when the Thunder erupted for a 16-2 run to end the first half that broke the game open completely. It started with a hustle play by Russell Westbrook, who smartly stepped in to intercept an outlet pass and turn it into a dunk. After that, the Thunder got a three-pointer from Thabo Sefolosha from Serge Ibaka, then Sefolosha found Kevin Durant for a dunk. Sefolosha added a layup of his own, Westbrook got to the bucket for an easy one, then Ibaka knocked down two free throws. After a great defensive sequence, the Thunder had the ball with 1.3 seconds remaining in the half, and got it to Westbrook for a deep three-pointer that beat the buzzer. That gave the Thunder a 51-34 advantage going into halftime.

Plays the box score won't show, first half:
Great job by Perkins and Sefolosha to defend the pick-and-roll and force a late, long two-point jump shot that missed. Nice patience by Ibaka to stay down on multiple pump fakes by Scola to force a difficult miss. Thabeet sets a perfect screen to set up Sefolosha for a flare out three-pointer. Collison hustles and flies out of bounds to save the ball. Good instincts by Jackson to run back in transition, turn around and make a steal. Brilliant move by Westbrook to stay in it and steal the outlet pass. Wonderful extra efforts by the Thunder in transition defense to make multiple stops.

Plays the box score won't show:
Strong box out by Perkins to fend off his man and prevent an offensive rebound. Nice toughness in the paint by Perkins and Ibaka to stick with a defensive board and grab it. Durant calmly runs under the basket with the ball and Westbrook makes a perfectly timed cut to get an easy layup. Durant sticks with his man and moves his feet, forcing a travel. Perfect, intense possession on defense results in a Suns 24-second violation.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time. It’s a long season. As you get closer to All-Star break teams relax. We’re just trying to speed it up a little bit.” – Russell Westbrook