Vince Carter couldn't be stopped.
The eight-time All-Star splashed in one rainbow 3-pointer after another in the first half against the Thunder on Sunday. He drained four of them in the first 24 minutes and appeared to be on his way to one of his old “Half Man, Half Amazing” performances.
Carter's first two buckets of the third quarter — a step back jumper and a nifty layup off a feed from Steve Nash — looked effortless. They gave him his 18th and 20th points, respectively, and gave the impression that this night simply would belong to him.
Then Thabo Sefolosha did something to stop it.
With 8:35 left to play in the third period, Sefolosha fought through a screen and closed out on a 13-foot jumper by Carter just in time to swat the attempt into the second row. The crowd came alive. The Thunder did, too.
Oklahoma City spent the rest of the period playing as tough as it has all season. And in the end, that effort spurred Sunday night's 122-118 overtime win over the Suns.
“After 24 minutes, we were trailing and we said if we keep trading baskets with them we might lose this game,” Sefolosha said. “So I think everybody made a conscious effort of giving a little something extra to the team.”
Did they ever?
Sefolosha's swat on Carter was the first of five blocked shots the Thunder had in the period. OKC had nine for the game.
Less than a minute after rejecting Carter, Sefolosha swatted away a dunk attempt by Suns center Robin Lopez. Sefolosha stared at a five-inch height disadvantage but stared down the Suns' center and stood tall in front of the rim. Serge Ibaka followed with a rejection on Carter on the Suns' second-chance.
The tone had been set.
Russell Westbrook began pressing up on Nash with more vigor at the top of the key. Ibaka started showing a hard double on Nash and rapidly rotating back to Channing Frye on the perimeter. That same tenacity by that same tandem later forced Nash into a crunchtime turnover with 14.9 seconds remaining in regulation.
Ibaka swatted another close attempt by Marcin Gortat, and Nick Collison later sent Gortat crashing to the floor with a hard foul, which was called a Flagrant 1.
The Suns still scored 30 points in the period, which is more a testament to how lethal an offensive team they are. But the intensity the Thunder showed in the third period keyed the fourth-quarter defense, which held the Suns to 18 points on 40 percent shooting.
The Thunder took control for the first time with a 14-2 run that turned a 93-88 deficit into a 102-95 margin with 6:44 remaining. Over that span, the Thunder held the Suns to 1-for-5 shooting and forced them into a backcourt violation.
Carter scored just nine more points after the opening minutes of the third quarter, finishing the game 3-for-10. The Thunder's tenacity eventually took care of him and helped grind out a gutty win.
“That's one thing that we've been talking about lately is always having toughness on the defensive end,” said Kevin Durant. “Everybody was good tonight.”