A fourth-quarter lull slowed OKC's attack in Wednesday's 115-97 loss to the Suns.
By Paris Lawson | Broadcast and Digital Reporter | okcthunder.com
MOMENTS FROM THE 48
The final 115-97 score was hardly an indication of the type of battle the Thunder put up inside of Footprint Center on Wednesday. The squad was without Josh Giddey, Darius Bazley, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Tre Mann all due to health and safety protocols and without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who was a late scratch with ankle soreness. On the second night of a back-to-back against one of the best teams in the league, the adversity was certainly stacked against the Thunder heading into Wednesday night’s matchup. However, none of this fazed the resilient Thunder who matched the Suns energy from the outset. OKC kept pace with Phoenix’s high-tempo offense and going into halftime, only trailed by eight points.
The Thunder took the reins in the third quarter behind a 21-8 run to not only close the gap, but take a three-point lead. OKC’s defense held the Suns to just 1-for-10 from deep in the frame and had found its rhythm offensively. It wasn’t until the last five minutes of the fourth quarter where the Suns regained control of the ball game.
OKC trailed by just six points before a 3-pointer by Devin Booker extended the Suns’ lead to nine points with under five minutes remaining. The Thunder’s offense was unable to answer Phoenix’s punches from that point on as Phoenix shot 66 percent from the 3-point line in the fourth.
Though the Thunder ultimately fell short, the show of effort and competitiveness in the midst of unique circumstances was one to be proud of.
“I was really proud of our guys,” said Thunder acting head coach Mike Wilks. “We made it a fourth quarter game tonight which is hard to do against a high-level team on the road. Our guys came out, competed and played together and we were able to do that.”
Living in the Lane
The 3-point shot wasn’t falling for the Thunder early on. After the first half, the Thunder had gone 2-for-16 from deep but was still very much in the ball game thanks to its production in the paint. OKC outscored Phoenix 34 to 18 in the paint in the first half and by the end of the night, logged yet another game with 50 paint points.
“It was a really big emphasis,” said Wilks on scoring in the paint. “We know they're a really good defensive team and it was going to take multiple efforts so we wanted to get downhill, put pressure on the paint and hopefully get good finishes.”
“That's huge for us, both defensively and offensively,” said Thunder rookie Aaron Wiggins. “When we play together and we're making the right plays and the right reads, we get a lot of good shots. A lot of them didn't fall tonight, but I thought we played really well together.”
Wiggins and Jerome Step Up
It was point guard Ty Jerome who stepped into the starting lineup in Gilgeous-Alexander’s absence. In just his second start of the season, Jerome posted a career-high 24 points while also logging five assists, eight rebounds and three steals.
“I thought he did a great job facilitating the offense and attacking the rim. Getting us into plays, making some good passes,” said Thunder big man Mike Muscala. “He scored a lot of points finishing at the rim. He's really crafty in there with his finishing and his passing.”
“First off, just happy for Ty. He's a guy that is a consistent worker whether he's in the rotation or out of the rotation,” said Wilks. “He just came out and competed, made good decisions out there. Got guys in the right spot and helped us play together.”
Rookie two-way Aaron Wiggins logged his third consecutive high-scoring game as he chipped in 22 points of his own on 10-of-19 from the field. The former Maryland Terrapin showed aggressiveness in attacking the rim throughout the night. His effort was punctuated by a ferocious one-handed slam in the first half after beating Cam Johnson off the bounce.
“Before the game today I told him I was like ‘listen, I need the Maryland Wiggins today. I need you to be aggressive,’” said Jerome. “He looked at me said ‘I got you’ and he went out and did it.”
THE LAST WORD
“Just continuing to play together. Guys have gone down with COVID with injuries and stuff and we have a next-man-up mentality and guys still wanted to compete and wanted to win. So it was just about playing together trying to execute our game plan.”— Aaron Wiggins on the fight to make it a close game
After a pair of games on the road, the Thunder returns to Oklahoma City for a day off before taking on the New York Knicks on New Year’s Eve.