Point guard Russell Westbrook was getting stitched up in the locker room during halftime of the Thunder's 114-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns on New Year's Eve and missed the start of the third quarter.
Westbrook required eight stitches above his right eye after receiving an inadvertent elbow from Suns forward Luis Scola late in the second quarter. Westbrook was replaced in the starting lineup by Reggie Jackson after intermission.
OKC led 54-53 at halftime, started the second half with a 12-0 run and led 68-59 when Westbrook re-entered at the 6:24 mark of the third period.
“Reggie, I'm sure did a great job of controlling the game,” Westbrook said afterward. “I don't know how the game went, but I saw we were winning, and that's all that matters.”
Jackson finished with six points (3 for 3 from the field), six assists and four rebounds in just 15 minutes. Westbrook had 24 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and just one turnover in 33 minutes.
“Russell plays with a lot of emotion, a lot of toughness,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He just plays hard. I'm so proud, the way he plays every night. He doesn't miss games (342 straight games, the league's longest active streak). He doesn't miss practice. He just competes every time down the court. Like a lot of our guys, he's not always perfect but his effort most nights is always good. Russell came back and gave us good effort and energy and toughness and defensively, I thought his steal was one of the better ones of the night.”
The haunts of the Skirvin are alive with this offering from Suns beat writer Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:
“The legend of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel being haunted has grown ever since the NBA moved to Oklahoma City and visiting teams began staying at the 101-year-old hotel. The list of ghost sightings and tales of strange noises has grown with NBA players who have become believers. On Sunday night, two Suns players swore to odd incidents. One said he woke to a few inches of water in his bathtub behind an open bathroom door that he closed. Another said he awoke to a bathroom sink running with both faucets on.”
Three-time NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant primarily was defended by Suns forward P.J. Tucker, the same person who helped recruit Durant to play collegiately at Texas. Tucker and Durant wound up being successive Big 12 Players of the Year in 2006 and 2007.
“I brought him to UT,” Tucker told Coro. “I brought him in. When he came on his official visit (in May of 2005), we had already talked way before. We talked a bunch. Then he came, and I showed him and basically brought him in. We've been cool and friends ever since.”
Tucker and Durant could have been teammates, but Tucker, Daniel Gibson and LaMarcus Aldridge entered the NBA Draft early in 2006. “I didn't know I was going to enter my name in the draft,” Tucker said. “I wouldn't say I wished I had stayed, but it would've been nice to play with him.”
Durant finished with 30 points against the Suns and had 10 points in the final 6:09 of the game. “He isn't worried, trust me,” Tucker said before the game of defending Durant. “With guys like him that can score like that, he's not worried about anybody guarding him. He's going to get them up.”
NICK OF TIME
Thunder reserve Nick Collison was his usual, efficient self, scoring 10 points (5 for 6 from the field) and grabbing nine rebounds (four offensive) in 20 minutes against Phoenix.
“Nick does so many great things for us,” Brooks said. “Time and time again like I say, he's a ‘glue guy.' He does all the little things that are important to winning basketball games. He makes a ton of winning basketball plays. He sets great screens. … He dives on the floor and gets offensive rebounds. And his jump shot — I have a lot of confidence when he shoots it. He's worked on it over the years and it's good to see him have a good game on both ends of the floor.”
The loss to the Thunder upped the Suns' losing streak to six straight overall and nine straight on the road. Phoenix slipped to 11-21 overall and 2-14 on the road.
“We're still good enough to win all these games, but we have to be more focused,” Suns reserve center Jermaine O'Neal said. “We can't keep talking about it. I don't know how many more speeches coach (Alvin Gentry) can come in here and give. I applaud him for having as many as he's had. Look at the roster. We don't have a whole lot of guys who've been there.”
Westbrook on if he would mind playing at home every New Year's Eve: “I'd rather play home on Christmas than New Year's (Eve), if you ask me.”