As Russell Westbrook entered the game in the 4th quarter, his team was down 14 and it looked all but lost for the Thunder who didn’t have any energy, had played poorly on defense, and couldn’t get much going on offense either. They had all the symptoms of a team coming off the second night of a west coast road trip back-to-back.
But that “they” did not include Russell Westbrook in the 4th quarter. From the time Russ checked back into the game, until the final buzzer sounded, he was on a mission to get the Thunder back in it. He went for 20 points and had 10 rebounds in the 4th quarter… yes, a double-double… in a single quarter. He was literally taking the ball on the inbounds pass, dribbling up the court, driving right by his man and finishing at the rim. The Suns, who were trying to match the Thunder small ball lineup, were unable to effectively alter Russell’s attempts at the rim. I mean… all they had back there was Jared Dudley and I’m not sure if he can even touch the rim anymore.
It was an impressive effort and absolutely absurd to watch. The Thunder were able to cut it down to 6 late in the quarter with the ball in hand. Russell got the ball up top for a wide-open look at 3, went up like he was going to attempt a shot and fired a pass inside to a wide-open Steven Adams… however, Adams had been camped in the lane ready to attack the offensive glass after a shot, and he was called for 3 seconds. On the Suns next possession, the Brazilian Blur (Leandro Barbosa) drilled a 3 with 56 seconds left to play.
The Thunder would not give up in the final 56 seconds, which seemed more like 56 minutes, as Russ had a steal and Abrines hit two threes to keep it tight. But, the Suns hit all their free throws after the Thunder were forced to foul with what little time was left, and they were able to hold off the late Thunder onslaught to win this one 118-111.
Now let’s talk about what happened to leading up the final frame.
The game started out solid for the Thunder. The Suns were playing sloppy early making some careless turnovers and missing a lot of easy looks. They came out of the gates to go 3 of 17 from the field and just did not look like they came to play. Andre Roberson’s length was obviously bothering Devin Booker early as he wasn’t hitting much of anything going 2 of 8 in the first quarter with 3 turnovers.
On the other end, Russell Westbrook was doing Russell Westbrook things as he had 8 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists in the first. He also received some help from Domantas Sabonis who was all over the place early. He finished the quarter with 7 points and was super aggressive on the offensive end. Actually, he was super aggressive all around, diving on the floor and fighting guys for loose balls while doing a decent job on the defense. The Thunder also got help from Enes Kanter, but the other Stache bro, Steven Adams, only had one shot attempt and still looked off as he did last night in Portland.
The Thunder had a few mishaps at the end of the quarter but led 28-23 after one.
Then in the second quarter, Russ and Dunk Contest runner-up Derrick Jones Jr. got into a little scuffle near the Suns bench.
Russ had words for the entire Suns team and the crowd and players did not take very kindly to it. It really seemed to ignite the crowd and you could tell they were now full-on engaged in this one.
It also seemed to ignite the players, as Tyler (The Creator) Ulis and crew went on to outscore the Thunder 35-27 in the second quarter. The Suns’ reserves absolutely dominated the Thunder second unit. Ulis made Norris Cole look like he had spent the last decade playing in China, much less the last year, as he finished with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in the quarter. A 5’10 guy grabbed 3 rebounds in the quarter, that’s impressive. Along with Ulis, Alan Williams, aka Big Sauce, had 6 points and 6 rebounds and it actually could’ve been 10 as he missed two chip shots. Jones Jr was noticeably fired up after his conformation with the Thunder All-Star and went on to play some pretty solid defense on him until Russ was able to get the young Sun in foul trouble.
For the Thunder, no one was able to get much of anything going on offense and as you could probably tell from the paragraph above the defense was atrocious. Outside of Kanter, the Thunder bench combined for 5 points and 5 turnovers. The Thunder went into the half trailing by 3, 58-55.
In the third quarter the Thunder started out sloppy. They were making dumb mistakes which led to turnovers and Russell still wasn’t getting much help on the offensive end. The one bright spot of the quarter though was Steven Adams, who finally seemed to show up for this road trip. He and Russ ran their pick-and-roll which led to a dunk for the Big Kiwi, and that seemed to get him going.
He finished with 6 points and 8 rebounds in the quarter. We also saw a little more Sabonis, who gave a little spark off the bench scoring 4.
The Suns continued to get tremendous play out of Ulis, and Booker and Bledsoe started showing some signs of life by getting to the basket instead of trying to shoot over Russ and Andre’s long, outstretched arms.
The Suns had pushed their lead to 8 heading into the 4th and as I noted above it would extend to 14 before Russ came back into the game and went super nova… which still wasn’t enough. I mean, the dude put the team on his back and carried them to what was almost an incredible come back. Just look at this effort:
But, the Thunder’s overall play was just too poor on both sides for them to pull this one out as they suffered their second tough loss in a row.
The Thunder were led by Russ, obviously, who finished with 48 points, 17 boards, 9 rebounds, 3 steals and 4 turnovers. Alex Abrines chipped in 13, 6 in the final minute, and Kanter and Sabonis both had 11, while Adams finished with 9.
For the Suns, they had 6 guys score in double figures. Bledsoe (18), Booker (17), Warren (15), Big Sauce (14 and 13 rebounds), Barbosa (14) and Ulis (14 and 7 assists). Outside of Barbosa, none of the other guys are older than 24 and Booker and DJJ are both 20.
- The Suns had lost 5 of their last 7 coming into this one.
- Russ had two of his biggest triple doubles against the Suns. 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists, and 26 points, 11 rebounds, and 22 assists. Although he was one assist shy of the triple-double tonight, he had another huge stat line with 48, 17 and 9.
- The Suns honored long time radio play-by-play announcer Al McCoy at halftime. He’s been calling suns games for 44 years! That’s the longest run of any play-by-play man in NBA history. They also gave away Al McCoy bobbleheads. It was pretty cool.
- Oladipo missing another game with back spasms. Didn’t meet the team in Phoenix. Could’ve definitely used him on both ends tonight to provide a much needed spark and give Westbrook some resemblance of help.
- The Suns have been playing their younger guys and the older guys, like Tyson Chandler, haven’t seen the floor much. Chandler hasn’t played in the last four games but he is apparently embracing his new “mentor” role to these younger guys. I know as a Suns’ fan you want to have a better team with a better record, but it is pretty cool that they can use the rest of the season to develop all of their young talent. It’s fun to watch these guys learn on the job and to see their competitiveness out there.
- Jarret Jack signed 10 day with New Orleans and then tears his meniscus… that’s tough.
- The Suns have two of the better nicknames in the league with Big Sauce and Airplane Mode (Derrick Jones Jr.).
- Earl Watson used to play for the Thunder, if you didn’t know. I didn’t hear/see that on twitter once during the game…
- Brett Dawson of NewsOk said that this was probably the loudest Thunder-fan presence he’s heard at a road arena this season. I thought that was interesting.
- Cavs set the NBA record for 3’s made in a single-game tonight with 25. It was pretty fitting that Kyle Korver hit the 25th one in front of the Atlanta crowd.
- Tyler Ulis was absolutely incredible tonight. He’s going to be a solid player in this league, not a star but a fringe starter/solid role player with a long career. He also made this pass tonight:
- Alan Williams dominated on the offensive glass tonight. It reminded me of when Dejuan Blair would do that to the Thunder. He would just go out and have a career night out of nowhere. He has a similar build to Dejuan, so that stood out to me. I think he’s going to be a much better player than that, it’s just the first thing that came to mind seeing his play tonight.
- The Suns had solid ball movement tonight, a lot of that is thanks to Ulis running the offense very efficiently. On the other hand, the Thunder did not have solid ball movement, to say the least.
- The Suns are awesome in transition. They are second in the NBA in fast break points per game at 19.4 and they were incredibly efficient tonight.
- The Thunder shot 25.7% from 3, 42.5% overall and had 19 turnovers. That’s not the best recipe for a victory.
- The Suns were just the all-around more physical team tonight. The Thunder were getting bullied by this young Suns team and didn’t seem to have the energy to fight back (outside of Russ).
- Per Jon Hamm, Adams is hitting only 45% from the free throw line in his past 11 games.
- Taj and McBuckets combined for 9 points… trade them back.
- Speaking of those two, it’s fun to see all these different lineups that Billy D is trying… but, hopefully he figures some out that he likes and work well… soon.
Next Up: At Dallas on Sunday at 7:30 CST.