Final Score: Suns 113, Thunder 110
Points: Grant Hill with 30, Durant with 28
Rebounds: Hill with 11, Collison with 8
Assists: Nash with 10, Westbrook with 9
The Thunder didn’t really take the Sacramento Kings seriously two nights ago. They were able to pull themselves together in the final quarter to win by 15, which gave the illusion that was somehow a solid victory. It wasn’t. Tonight, they messed around again with the Suns, and this time the competency of the Suns pushed them over the top. What is different between the Suns and the Kings?
Talent-wise, I don’t think there is a great difference between the Suns and the Kings. In fact, collectively I don’t think there’s a great deal of talent disparity between the elite teams and the lottery teams (Cleveland excepted). The Suns have slowly decayed over the past five years, and yet they have always been able to put themselves in the playoffs, due in large part to their offensive philosophy and in Steve Nash’s ability to execute it. Despite the loss of Amar’e Stoudamire in the off-season, the Suns are still the top scoring team in the NBA. Philosophy is important, but it only takes you so far (just ask Mike D’antoni). Tonight the Thunder were beaten by superior application of offensive principles conducted by a 36 and a 38 year old.
There are some teams in the league by which a good team can play one exceptional quarter and win in the end. However, by and large, if a poor team’s players actually care about the outcome, the game is likely to end in an upset. Against the Suns, The Thunder played one exceptional quarter (3rd) and were mediocre to awful the rest of the time. What was most disconcerting though was their lack of physicality on the Suns’ players, either on the perimeter or in the interior. They are not a good rebounding team, and yet the Thunder lost the rebounding battle.
Here are a few details to stew over:
- Halftime shooting percentage: 27.9%.
- Halftime 3’s: 1-11
- Final rebounds: 37-32, Suns advantage
- The Suns had 19 turnovers, but the Thunder only converted them into 12 additional points
- Old timer Grant Hill had 30 and 11
- Old timer Nash had 20 and 10
It’s hard for me to root against the Suns; I’ve been a Nash and Hill fan for a long time, and it’s pretty cool to see them still able to get up and down the court and hang exceptional stats on guys that are 15 years younger than them. But from a competitive standpoint, I was pretty incredulous as to how the Thunder continued to allow Nash and Hill to get clean looks with minimal contact. The Thunder had the youth and the bench, and yet they weren’t able to wear either of those two guys out.
I think that from a final impression standpoint, what bugged me the most wasn’t the anemic first half of play. The Thunder were only down nine at the half, which is practically nothing if they could begin to play with some competency. They certainly did, raining down 40 in the 3rd and appearing to get back on track.
No, what irritated me the most was the lack of defensive effort in the 4th. Granted, the Suns were killing them on the high screen and rolls with either Hill, Frye, or even Lopez popping out for open jumpers. It’s difficult to stop them. We’ve seen the evidence though; we know that the Thunder get stronger on the defensive end down the stretch. And yet, we did not see the same defensive intensity that we had in the past. Perhaps they were expecting that Nash would have to be taken out of the game due to his neck injury; I don’t know. I do know this: when all was said and done, the Suns had made 10-17 from the floor and 11-12 from the free throw line. Nash was in the middle of all of it, constantly finding ways to make his teammates better and firing his jumper with ease and accuracy.
Every team goes through bad stretches (and halves) regularly; I just thought that the Thunder had bottled up that defensive focus for 4th quarters. Back to the drawing board.
Next game: vs the Bobcats on Tuesday, December 21, at 7:00PM EST