PHOENIX — Russell Westbrook lurked near the free throw line and waited on the outlet pass he was sure would come. The second it did, Westbrook pounced. He jumped in front of Goran Dragic and intercepted a pass from Jermaine O'Neal just beyond the painted area extending from the Thunder's basket.
As O'Neal attempted to recover, Westbrook had already gathered himself to go up for a dunk.
O'Neal was too late.
Westbrook threw down a one-handed flush over O'Neal that ignited a 16-2 run to end the first half and propelled the Thunder to a trouble-free 97-69 victory over Phoenix on Sunday at US Airways Center.
“I just tried to find a way to create offense off our defense,” Westbrook said. “I think that's our biggest advantage as a team and I try to use it to our advantage.”
Westbrook went on to cap the game-changing rally with a 3-pointer to beat the second-quarter buzzer. After leaning into his follow-through, as if he was willing the shot through the net while watching the ball's flight, Westbrook turned and gave a menacing look in the direction of Dragic, who was left with no choice but to turn and walk toward his team's locker room.
“Scotty (Brooks) drew up a good play,” Westbrook said. “Everybody did their role. Kevin (Durant) came off real hard. (Kendrick) Perkins screened down. And I was able to get open and knock the shot down.”
The bucket completed a turnaround in which the Thunder went from a 35-32 lead with 4:12 remaining in the second period to a 17-point halftime advantage.
Things only got worse for the home team from there.
The Thunder took complete control of the game in the third quarter, outscoring the Suns 23-14 and holding Phoenix to just eight points over the final nine-plus minutes of the period.
Phoenix's 21 fourth-quarter points — all of which came after the Thunder had built a 35-point lead — were the most the Suns scored in any period. The Suns needed a putback dunk from reserve forward Wesley Johnson with 7.8 seconds remaining just to match the Thunder's opponent low for scoring, which was first set by Charlotte on Nov. 26.
Already out of hand, the game only grew ugly when Oklahoma City held Phoenix scoreless for eight straight minutes during a stretch from the end of the third period until the 7:50 mark of the fourth.
“I thought the guys did a great job,” Brooks said. “Anytime you can hold an NBA team three straight quarters under 20 (points) and almost the fourth quarter under 20, there's a lot of good defensive energy and toughness.”
Westbrook finished with a game-high 24 points with six assists in just 28 minutes. Durant added 18 points in only 29 minutes. For the fourth straight game, Durant Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins all were able to take the entire fourth quarter off.
Thabo Sefolosha, meanwhile, scored a season-high 20 points to help account for the absence of Kevin Martin, who missed the game with flu-like symptoms, and Serge Ibaka added 12 points and six rebounds.
Two nights after scoring a season-high 127 points against the Suns, the Thunder turned to defense to secure Sunday's win. OKC held Phoenix to 32.6 percent shooting and forced 23 turnovers, which led to 25 points.
Most incredibly, only one Suns player scored in double figures. Reserve forward Markieff Morris had 12 points but didn't get to double digits until the final six minutes of the game.
“I'll take the defensive game we had tonight,” Brooks said.
The coach paused.
“But I don't mind the offensive game we had the other night.”