Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
(Barry Gossage | NBAE via Getty Images)

Thunder Battles, Falls Short

GAME RECAP: OKC AT PHX

By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter | okcthunder.com

THE BIG PICTURE

On the second night of a back-to-back against the reigning Western Conference Champions, the Thunder fought tooth and nail through four quarters before falling to the Suns 113-101. Phoenix threw hard punches throughout the night and even built up a lead of 16 points, but the resilient Thunder responded to each run, never letting go of the rope and putting pressure on the Suns until the final buzzer sounded. 

MOMENTS FROM THE 48

Second Quarter Turnaround

Phoenix jumped out to an early start as its offense operated at a 52-percent clip from the field and 40 percent from the 3-point line. Turnovers by the Thunder fueled the fire for the Suns offense as OKC committed five turnovers which led to six extra points for Phoenix.

However, the Thunder adjusted to the Suns pressure in the second frame and even gave Phoenix a taste of its own medicine. After trailing by 15 in the first frame, the Thunder outscored the Suns 31-16 in the second to not only tie the ball game but take a three-point lead. Defensively, the Thunder shrunk the floor on Phoenix’s backcourt of Chris Paul, limiting their production and allowing just six combined points from the duo in the frame. Offensively, the Thunder showed a relentless attack to the lane behind the paint-hunting efforts of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who logged 12 paint points in the first half. Going into the locker room, the Thunder led 48-45. 

“We got them to turn it over a couple of times. We got them playing a little bit out of rhythm, and then our offense started to click,” said Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault. “We attacked the paint. We had good balance. A couple more shots started to fall for us that didn't fall early in the game and we gave ourselves a chance.”

“We just stuck to the game plan, played hard. Didn't overthink it,” said Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. “We came out a little bit sluggish to start the game and we just wanted to stick to the script and trust our work.”

Photo by Christian Petersen | NBAE via Getty Images

“It's a great experience for us to play against a team of that quality, with that level of experience and that requires that level to win the game. Now it's our responsibility to learn those lessons.”

—Coach Daigneault

Never Say Die

While the second quarter belonged to the Thunder, the Suns responded with a dominant third quarter of their own. Devin Booker had a quiet eight points in the first half and erupted for 15 in the third quarter alone on 6-of-10 from the field. The boost from the Booker helped propel an extended 23-4 run to regain a double-digit lead over the Thunder and outscore OKC 37-21 in the third. 

Despite the surging momentum in Phoenix’s favor on its home floor, the resilient Thunder refused to go down without a fight. Down by as many as 16 points, the Thunder shaved Phoenix’s lead down to single digits through the final frame forcing the Suns to keep their starting unit in the ball game through the final buzzer. Though the Thunder fell 113-101, the team outscored Phoenix 32-31 in the final quarter and gained the valuable experience of the narrow margins for error against a high-level, playoff caliber team. 

“It shows growth for sure,” said Gilgeous-Alexander. “Obviously, that’s a very good basketball club on the other side. They do a lot of things very well, and they make you play almost perfect to beat them. We weren’t perfect tonight, but we fought hard and gave it our all.”

“It's a good experience for our team because that's a starting lineup that started in the Finals and we're a team that's trying to punch our way through all these games and use these to improve,” said Daigneault. “It's a great experience for us to play against a team of that quality, with that level of experience and that requires that level to win the game. Now it's our responsibility to learn those lessons.”

Presence in the Paint

One key to the Thunder’s ability to find offensive rhythm in the second quarter was its aggressiveness to hit the paint. By the end of the night, the Thunder once again led the way in paint production with a 48-34 advantage in paint points while shooting 52 percent in the lane. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the way in this department as 14 of his team-high 29 points came from inside the lane. 

“When we get into paint good things happen,” said Thunder guard Josh Giddey. “Shai was getting downhill creating stuff himself and for other guys. We looked good when we got in the key and started getting easy buckets.”

Photo by Barry Gossage | NBAE via Getty Images

The Last Word

Coach Daigneault…

“On behalf of our team, we wish everybody a really happy holiday. Obviously, times are uncertain and we certainly are thinking of everybody, especially our fans. Hope everybody is healthy and safe and has a great holiday.”

What’s Next 

The Thunder returns to Oklahoma City where the team will enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas off with their loved ones. OKC will then return to action on the 26th inside of Paycom Center to take on the New Orleans Pelicans.