Thunder Dominates for 48 Minutes – OKC 115, PHX 87

Every driving lane was covered up. The passing widows were crowded with extended hands, and by the end of nearly every possession, the Thunder ended up with the ball with a head of steam in transition.

That was the formula for the Thunder in a blowout 115-87 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Thursday night, a game in which Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club played with force, focus and intensity on both sides of the floor for 48 minutes. That’s the mission statement of the Thunder system, and tonight it worked to perfection.

Through the first six minutes of the game, the Thunder surrendered 17 points to the young, fearless Suns, with guard Devin Booker racking up a quick 8 points on a pair of three-pointers. Over the ensuing 18 minutes, however, that same Thunder defense put the clamps down and held the Suns to just 21 points to take a 49-38 lead into halftime. The defense during that stretch was downright tenacious and after starting 6-for-10 from the field, the Suns managed just 6-for-33 shooting the rest of the half.

“I thought we did a good job of just being aggressive,” point guard Russell Westbrook noted. “We made them shoot tough shots, using our size, our length, and defending at a high rate.”

Donovan made a change to the starting lineup, which in part contributed to the Thunder’s hot start, along with a magnificent 16-2 edge in fast break points in the opening half. Newcomer Corey Brewer, the longtime veteran and former Donovan pupil at the University of Florida, was inserted into the starting group alongside Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams.

Brewer’s energy, length, quickness and footspeed were a nice fit with the rest of the Thunder’s starting five, and his ability to get out into transition and finish around the basket helped Oklahoma City generate high percentage baskets all night. In 28 minutes, Brewer finished with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal and helped contribute to 27 fast break points in the game for the Thunder as a whole.

“(Brewer) can tell maybe when his guys maybe falling asleep or focusing on some different actions he can maybe back cut,” Donovan noted. “I think the ball is going to find a lot of times that open man in particular when guys are rotating to give help on certain players.”

"I felt like my skillset really meshes with those guys,” Brewer said.

The third quarter is when the Thunder really blew this game open, racking up a whopping 39 points on 14-for-21 shooting behind perfect 5-for-5 shooting by Westbrook as the Thunder’s point guard played all 12 minutes. He ensured that he didn’t need to return in the fourth quarter. By scoring 13 of his 27 total points (he was an efficient 11-for-14 from the floor), Westbrook helped get the offense into high gear through his downhill attacks to the paint.

The All-Star point guard also got teammates like Brewer involved on backdoor cuts behind the defense, found Steven Adams (16 points, 7-for-8 shooting) in the lane for hook shots and sprayed the ball to Paul George and Carmelo Anthony (11 points on 3 made three-pointers) for catch-and-shoot jumpers. For the game, Westbrook added 9 assists and 8 rebounds, with just 2 turnovers.

“(Westbrook) set the table for everybody tonight,” Donovan said. “He did a really, really great job of playing downhill, [and] getting guys shots. He was terrific, just his leadership, his communication out there in time outs, [and] in huddles.”

“Russ has that ability to make the game easy for everybody," George added. “I think that’s probably the best thing about his game.”

George, who hasn’t shot it well since the All-Star Break, was given a chance to start the fourth quarter, an inkling Donovan had to get his All-Star forward more time to catch a rhythm. It paid off, as George led the second unit through the first 7:26 of the period, scoring 10 points on 2-for-2 three-point shooting to keep the Suns at bay.

Defensively the Thunder stayed solid throughout the night, even after losing rookie Terrance Ferguson to a head injury late in the third quarter after he collided with Steven Adams. Ferguson will go through the concussion protocol. More information may be available on Friday. For the game, the Thunder’s five-man, coordinated defensive effort resulted in 33.7 percent shooting, including a 9-for-37 (24.3 percent) mark from three-point range for the Suns.

“We just got more aggressive. We started pushing up more,” Brewer said. “We had to make it tough on them.”

Finishing off the win for the Thunder was a cameo appearance by Nick Collison, the longest tenured member of the team. He was efficient and effective as always, a supreme example of professionalism and readiness, which could certainly be needed down the stretch of the season. In just over four minutes, Collison scored 4 points on a post-up lefty hook shot and a left-handed dunk on a roll to the rim, which elicited Westbrook to leap off the bench and skip down the sideline with glee.

“I appreciate that. Russ is excited,” Collison grinned. “It’s still fun to play. The juices still flow a little bit when you get out there.”

Russell After the Win

“Nick does a great job every day; he puts the work in,” Westbrook added. “I never worry about Nick, because he knows how to play the game of basketball and play it the right way, and tonight he did a good job.”

Collison’s appearance was a treat for the fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena, and a perfect way to cap a full 48-minute effort. This is the type of consistent, energetic performance the Thunder has been working towards since January, and now the team needs to string a handful of performances like this together as it makes a playoff push.

“It was good for us, all these games are really important,” Collison explained. “We had a chance to help ourselves tonight because we had lost two in a row, so it was important for us to come out and play well and I think we did that.”

Postgame Interviews

By the Numbers

11 – Blocked shots for the Thunder in the game, including 3 for Steven Adams to go with 16 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals

11-for-14 – Shooting numbers for Russell Westbrook, part of a 27-point, 9-assist and 8-rebound performance

27-6 – The Thunder’s advantage in fast break scoring in the game, aided by Corey Brewer’s leak outs in transition

The Last Word

“We did a really good job of coming out, playing together, playing with energy on both ends. I thought that was the game, once we became tied and connected it was easy for us.” – forward Paul George

Watch: Thunder Highlights