Thunder vs. Phoenix Suns Game Recap – Dec. 31, 2014
All night long, neither team in Chesapeake Energy Arena seemed to have an answer defensively for the other. It was fitting, then, that this one needed overtime to create a winner.
Despite the offensive firepower displayed nearly the entire 48 minutes, the end of regulation came down to both the Thunder and the Phoenix Suns getting a clutch defensive stop. In overtime, the Thunder drew first blood on two Kevin Durant free throws and ultimately, Head Coach Scott Brooks team made more plays in the closing minutes, securing a 137-134 victory.
“That was a heck of a basketball game,” Brooks said. “It was hard-fought, both teams really competed and made it difficult to guard each other.”
Late in regulation, the Suns’ Markieff Morris hits a three-pointer out of a timeout to give the Suns a three-point lead, but after Steven Adams made a steal, Kevin Durant knocked down a long three-pointer to tie it at 126 with 1:24 remaining.
The Thunder then got a stop and Durant pushed the tempo, dishing to Reggie Jackson who drew a foul and hit both foul shots. Morris then hit a runner to tie it with 34.5 seconds left, Jackson missed a three-pointer, then the Thunder defense forced a shot clock violation, setting up a final possession with under two seconds remaining, and an Anthony Morrow three-pointer just barely rimmed out.
It was a tie game in overtime, however, when Durant found Morrow in the corner. The Thunder sharp-shooter finally made his first field goal of the night, what ended up being a massive four-point play that gave the Thunder just enough of a cushion.
“He’s a big gamer,” Durant said of Morrow. “He likes taking those shots, he wants those shots and we believe in him. When it left his hand, I knew it was going down.”
The Thunder then made two crucial offensive rebounds with just over a minute remaining to keep the possession alive, then Durant drew a foul and made two free throws. Those offensive boards were a microcosm of the game as a whole, as the Thunder racked up 19 on the night and turned them into 25 second chance points.
“If we didn’t get a lot of those offensive rebounds and defensive rebounds, we probably wouldn’t have done as well as we did,” forward Perry Jones explained. “Steven (Adams) did a great job, and especially Andre (Roberson), getting clutch rebounds. Guys are stepping up.”
The Suns weren’t done yet, however, as Eric Bledsoe made a layup, then then PJ Tucker made a steal and then followed up a miss with a put-back dunk to pull to within two. Serge Ibaka missed a three then a loose ball went out of bounds off of the Thunder, setting up a final Suns possession with less than ten seconds left.
Andre Roberson pressured Bledsoe into a tough pass, then Ibaka closed out to force a missed three-pointer. Roberson secured the rebound with just over a second remaining, then made one free throw. His second one rimmed out, but the Suns’ heave at the buzzer was in vain as the Thunder celebrated a hard-fought victory to ring in the New Year.
Durant Brilliant in Return to Action
From the very start, the NBA’s reigning MVP was feeling it. After missing the past six games with a sprained ankle, there was a bit of an expectation of rust, but for Durant, it wasn’t there at all. By knocking down his first three shot attempts in the first four minutes of action, Durant racked up a quick seven points to get himself going. From there, he scored within the flow of the offense or by attacking on his own.
“It felt good,” Durant said. “My teammates were running plays for me and getting me in open spots. I just tried to finish for them. My shot felt good and my wind felt better than I thought. I just tried to play as hard as I can.”
The Thunder’s ultra-dynamic playmaker scored on pull-up jumpers, spot-up shots and in transition, seemingly having an answer when the Thunder needed him the most. For the night, Durant registered 44 points on 13-for-23 shooting, including a 6-for-11 mark from the three-point line and 12-for-12 shooting from the free throw line. Durant impacted the game in other ways as well, by snagging ten rebounds, all on the defensive end, and dishing out seven assists.
“He just kept everybody in the right place, mentally and on the court,” Brook said of Durant. That’s what leaders do… The basket was big for him tonight. He had a lot of big buckets and his leadership throughout the game was important for our win.”
Stats of the Night
19-7 - The Thunder’s advantage in offensive rebounds on the night, which led to a massive 25-to-6 gap in second chance points.
44-for-49- Free throw shooting numbers for the Thunder, representing a record for most makes in a game in the Oklahoma City era
44- Points for Kevin Durant on the night on 13-for-23 shooting, as he also racked up ten rebounds and seven assists in his return to the lineup
The Final Word
“They missed shots, we rebounded and we made a big shot. It’s pretty simple for us. We had a lot of good shots as well… We have to try to build off of this one, learn from what we did wrong and get better.” – forward Kevin Durant