Thunder 122, Suns 118
Observations from Sunday’s win over Phoenix.
- It’s always tougher to be critical after wins. But at this point, the topic of the Thunder’s late-game execution is about as unavoidable as it gets. And frankly, it’s somewhat amazing that we in the media haven’t made more of it than we have. That’s the benefit the Thunder has of being the Thunder and playing in Oklahoma City as opposed to being the Heat and playing in Miami, I suppose. But the last-second shot Kevin Durant took at the end of regulation was another predictable and ultimately failed play. If the shot goes in, Durant’s a hero. If it misses, he’s not clutch and coach Scott Brooks’ playbook is vanilla. That’s the breaks of this game.
- Berry Tramel wrote about the late miss for Monday’s paper.
- The most disturbing thing about the miss at the end of regulation is that it came off what looks to be the same exact call. Before the ball is ever put in play, everyone in the building by now knows what the Thunder is going to do. Get the ball to Durant on the right wing off a pass from Russell Westbrook. Let Durant try to take his man one-on-one. Watch Durant pull up from as close as he can get after driving right. Pray that it goes in.
- I’m not in the camp of wanting the ball to go to someone other than Durant. He’s the face of the franchise, and he’s got to be able to deliver in those situations. But I also don’t see anything wrong with running something for someone else at times, or using Durant as a decoy, or Durant passing to an open teammate. At this point, anything other than the sequence described above seems like a better option.
- Tramel tried to pin down Brooks on the last-second sequences, and it led to some interesting responses. The most interesting thing that came out of it was Brooks called last-second shots some of the toughest plays to execute and referred to a stat that has teams throughout the league at 35 percent on those shots.
- Durant grew a bit defensive when asked about the last-second plays. When asked if coming off a curl wouldn’t work better than what we typically see, Durant responded “I wish you guys knew more about the game of basketball.” It was only the second time I’ve seen Durant get chippy with reporters. The other time was in L.A. during last year’s playoffs. And the amazing thing this time was KD delivered his line tonight with a wide smile, looking as friendly as ever as he dressed down a reporter.
- Last thing about the last-second shot. Durant said he felt good about it and added he would take the same shot nine times out of 10. Also, he answered the question about coming off a curl by saying teams generally switch screens late in games and it becomes tough to get a wide-open look even off a curl if teams switch.
- Oh right, the Thunder won this game. Despite what might come off as “negativity” above, I actually thought the Thunder did a great job of getting a nice gritty win. The Suns made things tough, and OKC had to really battle to earn this victory.
- The third quarter was the difference to me. Go back and watch how much intensity the Thunder played with in that period. It changed the face of this ball game. The defensive tenacity was kicked up a notch, and even though the Suns scored 30 points in the period that effort was carried into the fourth quarter and overtime.
- A 14-2 run by the Thunder in the fourth quarter turned a 93-88 deficit into a 102-95 advantage. It was the first time all night the Thunder had control of the game.
- Mickael Pietrus allowed the Thunder to take control. After heating up in the third quarter, scoring 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting, Pietrus must have thought he was M.J. He started chucking shots from all over the court. His step back jumper, which was pretty nice, is what gave the Suns a 93-88 lead. The Suns then missed four of their next five shots. Pietrus missed two of them, both difficult jumpers.
- Pietrus was responsible for the one field goal Phoenix did make during that stretch…But he took twenty steps to get to the rim for a layup.
- A part of that third-quarter tenacity was a hard foul by Nick Collion on Marcin Gortat. The officials deemed the foul a Flagrant 1. That’s Collison’s second Flagrant 1 in six games. He got called for one against San Antonio after a hard foul against Tony Parker.
- The Thunder had five of its nine blocks in the third quarter. None were better than Thabo Sefolosha’s on Robin Lopez’s dunk attempt. The one that turned the tide, though, was Sefolosha’s swat on Vince Carter’s jumper three and a half minutes into the period.
- Two other blocks that were really impressive came in the first period. Serge Ibaka blocked another Lopez dunk attempt, and it led to a layup by Nazr Mohammed off a feed by Westbrook. And KD blocked Gortat and watched it lead to a layup by Ibaka.
- The Thunder scored 22 points off 15 Suns turnovers. That’s now 73 points off 48 opponent turnovers that OKC has scored in the past three games.
- The role players in this one were excellent. James Harden had 26 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Ibaka had 15 points and seven rebounds to go with his four blocked shots. Sefolosha’s defense, after a slow start, was big in holding Carter to 3-for-10 shooting after the opening minutes of the third quarter. And Collison’s defense, rebounding and scoring were difference-makers.
- Harden’s ability to attack the basket both with the ball and while cutting without the ball is really blossoming. He’s becoming more and more of a threat to score in different ways and is providing a big-time lift off the bench.
- Harden’s a great actor, too. His leg kick on 3-point attempts is cheap if you ask me. But as long as the refs call it, it’s another weapon.
- WOW! I just realized that the Thunder got to the line 47 times to the Suns’ 14. OKC made 23 more foul shots (37) than Phoenix attempted. Through three quarters, the Thunder had a 38-11 advantage at the stripe.
- Here’s another interesting stat. The Thunder outscored the Suns 21-6 in fast break points.
- Best stat of the night to me was the biggest leads by both teams. For the Suns, it was eight. For the Thunder, it was seven. It’s rare in the NBA that neither team leads by double digits, especially in overtime games. That, coupled with the 12 lead changes and 13 ties, illustrates how competitive and entertaining this game was.
- Durant didn’t get his first field goal until a pull-up 3 with 1:48 left in the second quarter. I don’t know off hand, but I’d bet KD never went an entire half without scoring a field goal.
- Brooks wore an orange tie tonight. Interesting choice.
- In the first 9 1/2 minutes, Ibaka had 10 points and Channing Frye had seven rebounds while KD was 0-for-5.
- Frye’s game-high 15 boards set a career-high.
- I continue to be impressed with Thunder fans. The place was packed during pre-game introductions tonight. Fans were on their feet and were loud. I’ve been to every arena and cannot stress how uncommon that is in this league.
- We saw another malfunction with confetti tonight. This time, the stuff fell from the rafters just before tip-off into sections 114 and 115. Joked one Thunder official: “That’s some pretty strong confidence.”
- Especially since the Thunder came in 2-8 on Sundays. Tonight’s win was the first time the Thunder won on Sunday since Dec. 12 against Cleveland.
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