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Five quick observations from the Thunder's 128-122 loss in Phoenix

by Anthony Slater Published: March 6, 2014
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The Suns shrugged off the Thunder on Thursday night, completing a wild 128-122 comeback win in Phoenix. Here are five quick observations on the shootout:

1. Defensive issues - Part of this loss can be chalked up to the unsustainable shot-making from Phoenix. That was an incredible display. A career-high 41 points from Gerald Green. Thirty-nine from the Morris twins off the bench. Eleven third quarter threes for the Suns, 15-for-27 on the game. These two teams could play 10 more times and the Suns wouldn’t shoot this well in one of them. But that said, there was clearly some porous perimeter defense from the Thunder. Too many open shots, too many easy drive-by layups. It allowed Phoenix to gain a rhythm late in the third quarter and once they did, woof, did the Suns put on a show. Fun team.

By game, the Thunder has given up 103, 125, 114, 107, 99, 92 and 128 points since the All-Star break. That’s 109.7 per game. That’s not getting it done. Part of it, surely, is the absence of Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, two of the Thunder’s best defenders. But a majority of it has been effort and energy. A want to that the Thunder has lacked on that end.

2. Russell Westbrook’s presence - The only reason OKC had a shot in this game is because Russell Westbrook may have had one of the most impactful performances of his career. He was absolutely everywhere, right from the tip. His final stat-line: 36 points, nine rebounds, nine assists, four steals, a plus/minus of +16 in a game the Thunder lost by six. That last metric tells you the most. The Thunder was far worse with him off the court on Thursday night. When he subbed out mid-way through the third quarter — as part of his minutes restriction plan — Phoenix completely turned the game, outscoring OKC 31-12 before Westbrook would reenter.

He set the tone on the first play of the game:

3. Strange shot selection - As good as Westbrook was (and he was goooooood), he shot OKC out of it a little late. In the final two minutes, Westbrook missed three straight threes, with two of them the early in the shot clock pull-up variety. To that point, with a hot streak in progress, Westbrook probably felt he earned the right to take whatever shot he pleased. And he really had. But from a Thunder perspective, you’d still like to see higher-percentage looks.

4. Caron Butler, welcome to the show - Despite the loss, the Thunder got a pretty solid contribution from Caron Butler in his second game. He missed a batch of shots late, but overall went 4-of-8 from three and had 14 points. If he can make the deep ball that proficiently, he’s gonna be playing a lot of minutes come playoff-time.

5. Thunder-Suns first round? - It’d be exciting for the fans, fun for the media, stat-filled for the players and, likely, ideal for the Thunder. Because that feels like a five-game series. Phoenix would likely steal one at home, with a shooting performance similar to what we saw tonight. But overall, OKC is far more talented and experienced for a Suns team that’d be experiencing its first playoffs together. Shoot Scott Brooks with some truth serum, ask him if he’d rather face Dirk and the Mavs, Gasol and Grizzlies, Curry and the Warriors or Goran and the Suns in round one. He’s going Goran in a heartbeat. But that said, man are they fun to watch.

Quick hits

-Andre Roberson and Jeremy Lamb played the same amount of minutes tonight: 13. Not a good sign for Lamb, whose minutes continue to plummet (He did go 3-of-6 for seven points tonight, though).

-Matt Kemp was in the house

-San Antonio smoked the Heat in Miami, putting them only 0.5 games behind the Thunder, tied in the loss column. Western Conference standings update:

-This was not called a travel lol:

by Anthony Slater
Thunder Beat Writer
Anthony Slater started on the Thunder beat in the summer of 2013, joining after two years as NewsOK.com's lead sports blogger and web editor. A native Californian, Slater attended Sonoma State for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State in...
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