PHOENIX – From the sideline, Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan yelled “talk!” to his players down on the far end of the floor. There was a lot of direction from the sideline during Sunday night’s 114-100 loss to the Suns, but it was clear this was one of those nights during the slog of the NBA schedule where a team didn’t have its fastball.
From the outset, the Thunder let a young Phoenix team get confident and see the ball go in the basket with fast break points and second chance points, then paid the price in the second half. The major problem early for the Thunder was the offensive glass, as Phoenix racked up 20 of its 23 second chance points in the first half. On Phoenix drives, help came over from the center position, but there weren’t enough bodies there on the backside to prevent Tyson Chandler and Josh Jackson from slamming back Suns misses.
“We got hurt in transition, we got hurt on offensive rebounding and dug ourselves a hole. It wasn’t anything schematically that was really causing us a problem,” Donovan said. “They were getting on the glass, getting out in transition and beating us off the dribble and getting our defense in rotation. The difference in the second half was that they shot the ball very, very well behind the line.”
The Thunder trailed after a Troy Daniels three-pointer with 2:48 left in the first quarter, and never led again the rest of the night. On four occasions, including once deep into the third quarter, the Thunder pulled back to within one point, but could never get over the hump.
“We just didn’t play up to the level that we needed to,” forward Paul George said. “It’s a young team that played hard. They beat us in physicality. They were just aggressive. A young team playing aggressive on their floor. They got hot and it resulted in a loss for us.”
After putting Devin Booker to the free throw line once at midcourt and another time off the ball while already in the second quarter foul bonus, the Thunder gave the Suns sharpshooter confidence, and it resulted in five made three-pointers on the night.
“It’s only going to make him more confident, whether he’s missing shots or making shots, it’s only going to make you want to be more aggressive,” forward Patrick Patterson said of Booker’s free throw attempts. “He was aggressive early on and his shot started falling more as the game went forward.”
In the second half, those long distance buckets dropped from just about everywhere, but particularly stretch center Dragan Bender, who made 6-of-8 three-point attempts, including 5-of-6 after halftime and three straight to start the fourth quarter.
The Thunder was a step slow on its rotations and didn’t scramble enough times to close out possessions with stops, and it resulted in the Suns attempting 39 three-pointers on the game, and making 10-of-19 long distance shots in the second half alone.
“If people live in your paint, you’re going to give up a ton of threes,” Donovan began. “And they lived in the paint tonight.”
Highlights: Thunder at Suns - 1/7
George Meets with Super Fan
For his 18th birthday, Maryland-native Josiah Lindsay was given a gift he’ll never forget. First was the flight to Phoenix, and tickets to the Thunder’s game on Sunday night against the Suns. Then, after the game, George strode up and identified Lindsey in the throng of fans waiting for autographs, and stopped by him specifically to say hello and take photos.
Lindsey suffers from muscular dystrophy and is wheelchair-bound, and since George has been an inspirational figure to him over the years, the visit was all the more meaningful.
“That’s my favorite player, so it meant a lot because I look up to him as a role model,” Lindsey said of George. “The way he plays, he plays really cool. He has a lot of swag.”
By the Numbers
14 – Triple-doubles this season for Russell Westbrook, who scored 26 points to go with 11 assists and 10 rebounds
23-12 – The Suns’ advantage in second chance points on the night, aided by 12 offensive rebounds
48 – Bench points for the Suns, compared to just 19 for the Thunder
The Last Word
“We should always be the most energetic team out there. We should always be the hardest working team out there because of the veteran leadership we have in this locker room. But Phoenix out-worked us tonight.” – forward Patrick Patterson