With 15 seconds left, it looked like the Thunder were basically a defensive rebound away from sealing a tough win at home over the always difficult Suns. Then Vince Carter hit a pretty much insane 3.
With 1:25 seconds left in overtime, it looked like the Thunder were basically sunk, as Carter drilled another impossible trey, putting Phoenix up two. The Thunder clawed back with a James Harden and-1 dunk and then a Russell Westbrook free throw had Oklahoma City up two with 17 seconds remaining. And Carter had another chance to break the Thunder’s hearts.
A, ahem, questionable call on Thabo Sefolosha gave Carter three free throws with the Suns down 118-116. Carter swishes the first, but missed the next two. Westbrook knocked down a pair of free throws and after a failed Steve Nash chuck, Kevin Durant iced away a wild, crazy 122-118 win for the Thunder.
What’s kind of great about this victory is that the Thunder scored 122 points, shot 49 percent from the field and won despite KD going just 3-14 from the floor. That’s not going to happen often. Why the Thunder got away with it this time was because of huge efforts from Harden (tied his career-high with 26 on just 12 shots) and Westbrook (32 points, 11 assists). It’s becoming pretty obvious that Harden is sort of OKC’s x-factor player. He’s scored in double-figures in eight consecutive games and during that stretch is averaging 17.5 points per game. OKC envisioned Harden being that third scorer to give the Thunder a boost when Durant has a game like this one. Without Harden, OKC loses this game, and it’s probably not close.
The Suns stayed in the game because of the 3-point line (14-31 from 3) and OKC won it because of the free throw line (37-47 at the stripe compared to just 8-14 for the Suns). The Suns took 21 more shots, but that’s largely because of the huge free throw disparity. Phoenix was torching OKC’s defense for most of the night, scoring 61 at the half and 91 after three quarters, but the Thunder tightened up in the fourth, holding the Suns to just 18. With three minutes left, Phoenix had scored only six.
The Thunder had a chance to win the game at the end of regulation. With 10 seconds left, we all held our breath in anticipation for the next great last second shot by the Thunder. The play was eerily similar to Durant’s game-winner against New York with the end result coming out as a missed fadeaway 20-footer. A lot of the questions post-game to Brooks were centered around that possession with mine being, why are you so insistent on running a set there instead of letting Westbrook (or KD) try and go iso?
“There are some times where I feel that the game can give us a better shot with a set,” Brooks said. “I like the way our bigs set screens. We just have to continue to work on it. It’s not an easy play and we all need to improve on it, including myself.”
A lot of people wonder why not let Westbrook attack there. The risk there is he gets out of control and charges, giving possession back to Phoenix. The other question is, why not let Durant try and go one-on-one?
“If you want to get KD a shot, he’s one of the best pindown players in the game,” Brooks said. “When you give him iso, they collapse on him, they throw an extra defender. KD’s a willing passer. I have no problem doing that because KD makes the right play. He’s not always going to make the shot, but he’s always going to make the right play.”
Think about it though: You can’t expect to score every time on a last second shot. That’s just not realistic. Of course you want a better look but really the most you can ask for is at least a passable shot for your best player. The Thunder got that with Durant. He’s proven he can make it and I can live with it. It’s just not reasonable to expect the Thunder to run a perfect play that frees up the player the Suns are intently watching for a wide open, clean look. If you want to win at the buzzer, you’ve got to make a play.
In the end, didn’t matter though. The Thunder fought back in overtime, won a tough game against a team that seems to have their number. The Thunder got just enough stops, enough rebounds and made just enough plays. It really was a terrific game with either team never leading by much more than five or six. And with the way it ebbed and flowed in overtime, OKC should feel pretty fortunate about coming away with a win.
- Grant Hill deserves a game ball. He didn’t score a single point in 41 minutes, but defensively, he was superb on Durant. He was physical, battling through every screen and contesting everything. There are a lot of games where KD struggles and it’s just a matter of him missing shots. This one didn’t feel that way. Hill’s defense had as much to do with it as anything.
- In that same way, credit to Durant for playing terrific defense the entire way as well as not ever trying to force it. In 45 minutes, KD had just 14 shot attempts. Think Kobe Bryant would ever let that happen? Durant flowed within the game, let his teammates make plays and accepted his job of taking away focus from the other Thunder players. Phoenix keyed on KD all night and it opened the way for Harden and Westbrook to post big nights. That’s the thing about KD. Despite having a horrible 3-14 shooting night, he still showed off what makes him such a special basketball player.
- Serge Ibaka had his best game since taking over as the full-time starter. He scored 15 points with 12 coming in the first quarter. The most he’d scored since the Jeff Green deal was eight. But he was extremely active, scoring at the rim and with his jumper. He had seven rebounds and four blocks to go with it too.
- Ibaka also hedged wonderfully on screens. Against the Suns, that’s basically the best thing you can do defensively. They want to run pick-and-roll with Nash every time down, so getting out and flashing there is extremely key. Collison is a master of it, but seeing Ibaka improve there is really nice.
- Very little Nazr Mohammed in this one. Brooks went small against Phoenix’s finesse front line, playing KD at power forward most of the game. Makes me wonder a bit how Kendrick Perkins would’ve been used in this one. Was it just a Mohammed thing? Or would Brooks have done the same with Perk?
- Russ has really adapted the Shane Battier “hand over the face” defensive move. I guess it works. Kind of weird though.
- I don’t have a problem admitting it: James Harden is a huge flopper on 3-pointers.
- There were more charge/block calls in this game than I can think of all season. Overall, it was an oddly officiated game. Not bad necessarily, just kind of weird. Players had a long leash to complain, the game was physical and the free throw difference is jarring.
- Harden and Collison run the pick-and-roll beautifully. Great decisions by Harden, but what makes him so good is that he’s patient with his dribble.
- Something I’ve been thinking about for a while: Doesn’t it seem like something is missing before games outside the arena? It’s just so… boring out there. Some music, some activities, something.
- Are the Thunder out of halftime performance ideas? The past few weeks we’ve had “Let’s Make a Deal” like four times, Zumba, Rain Drops and Jazzercizers. Tonight it was a junior dance clinic. Can we not just hire Quik Change full-time? I haven’t even seen the Chinese Bowl Lady yet this year.
With a big game in Memphis less than 24 hours away, it’s going to be tough for the Thunder to be ready. Going to overtime isn’t going to help matters, but it’s a very good thing they didn’t let this one get away. Winning at home is always important and with it being March, any win comes with a lot of value. You worry about the Grizzlies when that game tips, but beating the Suns in a pretty wild, and fun, game is definitely good.
Next up: At Memphis Monday night.