It was a frustrating game in Phoenix for the Thunder, who came out playing nonchalantly and allowed the young Suns to collect confidence as the game went along. Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony combined for 59 points, but the Thunder got just 21 points from their bench in the loss. On the other side, the Suns went crazy from three-point range, led by Devon Booker’s 5 triples and Dragan Bender’s 6, combining for 46 points.
The Suns led for almost the entirety of the game, building a 14-point advantage in the mid third quarter. The Thunder did make one final run later in the third to cut the lead to two points after a Paul George fast break three pointer, but the offense stalled in the fourth quarter just as Phoenix were heating up from three.
With the loss, the Thunder drop to 22-18 for the season. The Nuggets now sit just a half-game behind them for the 5th spot in the Western Conference, and the Blazers lurking another half-game behind that. As I outlined yesterday, this stretch of games might be the most important of the season, and this wasn’t exactly the most hopeful start. OKC returns to action on Tuesday at home against the aforementioned Blazers. That will be a very important game.
10: The number of offensive rebounds the Thunder allowed in the first half, which was allowed the Suns to build a first half lead despite shooting just 42.3 percent.
14: The number of triple-doubles Russell Westbrook has this season, after finishing with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. But he was also -10 in box score +/-, the worst amongst the starters. So it isn’t quite fair to say he played great.
17: The number of threes the Suns hit, the most in one game all season.
34: Speaking of box score +/-, Josh Jackson’s number was +34. That’s absurd, especially considering Jackson is a rookie and plays mostly with the second unit. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
2: The number of points Steven Adams was awarded for this ridiculous alley-oop dunk in the third quarter. Just doesn’t seem quite fair.
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) January 8, 2018
The Little Things
What most NBA fans often don’t understand is that regular season NBA games are seldom decided by the big, obvious things, the way playoff games are. Playoff games are won and lost by the performance of the stars, the heart and desire of the team, or surprising heroic performances. The type of stuff that Skip Bayless or Stephen A. might yell about.
But during the NBA regular season, especially a random Sunday night game in Phoenix, teams are on some level of autopilot. These types of games are decided by a few simple facets of the game, whether it be turnovers or poor three-point shooting. In this case, the Thunder did most of the “big things” well: OK3 looked pretty good playing together and finished with 59 points combined. But giving up 10 offensive rebounds in the first half lead to a nine-point deficit, and 12 of 21 from the free throw line limited their ability to cut into the lead. Combine that with an out-of-his-mind shooting night from Dragan Bender, who hit 6 of 8 from three, and you’ve got the recipe for a loss to an inferior team.
Three Point Shooting
As a matter of fact, Bender wasn’t the only one nailing shots from deep for the Suns. Phoenix shot 17 of 39 from long range, with nine of those coming in the second half. It was the most threes the Suns have hit in a game all year, if that’s any consolation.
On the other side, the Thunder hit just 8 of 27 from three, good for a whopping 29.6 percent. Melo and Raymond Felton were the biggest perpetrators at a combined for 2 of 10.
Still No Roberson. With Dre out for the fourth consecutive game because of a knee injury, the Thunder’s defense struggled mightily. Hard to believe that Devon Booker would’ve gotten loose for 26 points and five treys on Roberson’s watch. Oh but sometimes he air-balls free throws, so I thought he was worthless.
Abrines, or lack there of. It was reported before the game that the Spaniard would be available to play after missing the last two games because of a right groin strain, but he never saw the floor until garbage time. For reference, he checked in at the same stoppage as Kyle Singler. I went in more depth on this a few weeks ago, but it sure feels like Abrines’ days might be numbered in OKC.
PatPat. Even though the big fella only played 17 minutes, his jump shot looked more confident than it had all season. He drilled both of his three-point attempts, hit a pair of free throws and even recorded two assists. With Jerami Grant’s jump shot still M.I.A., there may be more minutes in store for Patterson.