PHOENIX — Scott Brooks was asked before Sunday’s game whether he’s seen significant improvement in the Thunder’s defense since the last time his team visited Phoenix.
“Yeah,” Brooks said, “we definitely have improved defensively.”
Couldn’t tell by the way the Thunder again got torched by the Suns and fell for the second time this season inside US Airways center, this time 122-115.
At a time when the Thunder is supposed to be fine-tuning for the playoffs, Oklahoma City still can’t seem to figure out how to be sharp defensively. Opposing guards are still slicing through the lane and opposing shooters are still left alone far too frequently.
Suns forward P.J. Tucker became the latest bit player to burn the Thunder, scoring 11 of his career-high 22 points in the fourth quarter. He made seven of nine shots, including four of five 3-point attempts. All four of Tucker’s 3s came from the corner, where Kevin Durant continuously got caught sagging off too far and closing out too slow.
The Suns sprayed in 11 of 23 3-pointers.
“We gave up too many open 3s in the corner,” Brooks said. “That’s a 40 percent shot, so we don’t want to come off on the corner. They roll hard. They penetrate so they get you in a position where you have to make sure you are stopping the ball first. And we didn’t get out to their shooters. But those are all correctable things, things that we’ve done well all year. We just had some bad moments tonight.”
Gerald Green, who erupted for a career-high 41 points in the Thunder’s last trip to the desert, finished with 24 points. He poured in 11 in the third quarter, nine of them coming on 3s.
When it wasn’t Tucker or Green taking it to the Thunder, it was Goran Dragic, the crafty point guard who gave Phoenix three 20-point scorers. He added a team-high 26 points, with 19 of them coming in a first half in which the Suns scored 62 points on 58.7 percent shooting.
Dragic was complemented in the backcourt by Eric Bledsoe, who missed the last meeting while recovering from injury. Bledsoe scored 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting.
“They give you trouble because they’re small, they attack, they get to the free throw line, they can make 3s and they’re desperate right now,” Brooks said. “They’re fighting for their playoff lives.”
Kevin Durant scored 38 points with 11 rebounds, both game highs, and Russell Westbrook added 33 points and eight assists.
But the Thunder’s star duo seemed to get sucked into the Suns’ free-wheeling style. They combined to take 24 of the team’s 32 3-pointers. They made just six.
Phoenix shot 23 as a team.
“Too many 3s, no question,” Brooks said. “That’s not a normal game for us when those two guys shoot that many 3s.”
The Thunder had a one-point lead with 21/2 minutes remaining but couldn’t manufacture enough stops to close out the Suns. Oklahoma City’s offense also went cold at the worst time.
Markieff Morris scored on a driving layup to put Phoenix back on top, 113-112 with 2:20 left to play. The Thunder then went 0-for-6 with a turnover over the next two minutes.
Three of the shot attempts came from 3-point range.
“We just wasn’t really ready,” Westbrook said. “We got ourselves back in the game and then we figured out too late what we needed to do. And then they made some big shots.”