The Phoenix Suns failed to hold their tenuous grip on the Western Conference's eight position, losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. James Harden provided the difference with a career-high 40 points, changing the momentum of the game from the moment he entered with 5:03 remaining in the first quarter and the Suns holding a 21-11 lead as the Thunder charged to a 109-97 win in Phoenix.
Jared Dudley led the Suns with 21 points and 6 rebounds, but Marcin Gortat struggled through 2-13 shooting, a primary cause for Steve Nash dishing only 5 assists. The bread and butter of the offense, the pick and roll, wasn't working well tonight and the Suns ended up starving as a result, shooting 41% from the field and sputtering through the game after a fast start.
Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook was held more or less in check with 15 points, Durant seemed to be having a quiet night until you looked up to see he had 29. But Harden played like a superstar, as he also gathered 7 rebounds to go with 3 assists and his prodigious scoring, and the Thunder were +26 with him on the floor. He controlled the game with his deadly accurate shooting, dribble-drives and playmaking.
The Suns were able to hang in the game until early in the fourth, climbing to within a point at 73-72 with 2:21 left in the third. Then the Thunder started the fourth with a 16-7 run to bury the Suns for good at 98-84 with 8:00 remaining, and Phoenix got no closer than 11 the rest of the way.
With the win, the Thunder swept the season series from the Suns, winning each of the three contests by double digits. OKC also remained 1/2 behind San Antonio for the #1 seed in the West with a 45-17 record. Phoenix dropped to 9th in the West with the loss and Utah's thrashing of the Trailblazers.
Too much James Harden tonight, and the Suns had no answer. No time to hang their heads, though. Tomorrow night, the Clippers roll into town in a game that will be televised nationally on TNT.
Roll Call: Toon Army Sun, SteveNash, QuantumPhysicist, djturbolence, atkammoh, East Bay Ray, Airwave, sidepart, jc79, Omaha Sun, ryansunsfan, trebski, Spit_Fire, modernage13, nashtyish, STUPID KERR, raxado, brian13, phxpurple, Beavis 25, KnowGood, PhoenixSons, twitte07, The Solution, MMotherwell, jatrex4suns, wedge1039, Antwuan, Juac, sun-arc, u_must_chill, Ataraa, Colton Dodson, JoeWisco, lee4, KC_Suns_Fan, ThatOtherCanadianKid, Not Disclosing My Name, sonicking, ilintar, Suns R Us, NashIsBeast, Aztiramtempe, SUNS PORTUGAL, noonoo, nashran3, Ohforf, The Rising Phoenix, rainmann, Chafid Ahmad, N8lol, suns68, Jim Coughenour, Snowbird, WaveOcean, theokiedoke, nash4primeminister, ArizonaCactus, Suns2flyy, PatrickPetersonAZ, ZillaRock, Piotr Szczesniak, Skii, Bostonian Suns Fan, hcblankscreen, SmokinKieff, PHXSunsRunNGun, Fritzy, AZBengal18, haremoor, flagsuns, 2NASHTY, blanke, SS21, shawndy, blank_38, grego85, TheRza82
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|Name||# of Posts|
|Suns R Us||34|
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|Toon Army Sun||6|
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|The Rising Phoenix||2|
|Bostonian Suns Fan||1|
25 points through the first 8 minutes of play for the Suns, 20 in the following 16 minutes. Only 6 assists for the team, 3 for Nash as Gortat struggled mightily with 2-11 shooting. That was a rough half, but the Suns are still in it, down 52-45. Still right in this one AND the Rockets lost!
Let's do this, Suns!!
Roll Call: u_must_chill, nashran3, modernage13, Fritzy, phxpurple, djturbolence, AZBengal18, jatrex4suns, MMotherwell, wedge1039, suns68, haremoor, NashIsBeast, lee4, Omaha Sun, Suns R Us, flagsuns, 2NASHTY, East Bay Ray, blanke, Antwuan, brian13, Juac, The Solution, Colton Dodson, SS21, atkammoh, noonoo, KnowGood, Suns2flyy, SUNS PORTUGAL, PHXSunsRunNGun, shawndy, rainmann, JoeWisco, PhoenixSons, Piotr Szczesniak, blank_38, KC_Suns_Fan, Airwave, raxado, grego85, WaveOcean, SteveNash, QuantumPhysicist, TheRza82, sonicking, ThatOtherCanadianKid, twitte07, STUPID KERR, ilintar, jc79, Spit_Fire, sidepart, Toon Army Sun
Total Users: 54
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|Name||# of Posts|
|Suns R Us||12|
|East Bay Ray||6|
|Toon Army Sun||1|
On the surface, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a clearly superior team to the Phoenix Suns. Currently #2 in the Western Conference, 1/2 game behind the Spurs for #1 with a 44-17 record, the Thunder defeated the Suns by 10 on New Year's Eve and then by 11 last month. Kevin Durant is a league MVP candidate, Russell Westbrook averages over 24PPG and the Thunder have the #1 offensive rating in the league.
But these teams aren't so mismatched when we look at how they've been playing recently. Chew on this, Suns fans: Phoenix has a better record since the All-Star break (18-9) than the Thunder do (17-10). At what point does the sample size become large enough to say that the Suns are a legitimately good team? A win tonight would certainly go a long way to proving the Suns belong as a playoff team, and that they might be one the contenders won't want to face.
US Airways Center had better be rocking tonight because the Suns have played so well over the last couple of months that they've earned this critically meaningful game in mid-April. All five teams remaining on the Suns schedule have winning records and two of them are championship contenders, but the Suns are capable of beating each of them, and it starts with this test tonight.
Of course, there is danger in thin-slicing results too much. When the Suns and Thunder last met March 7th in OKC, the Suns led 84-68 midway through the third quarter before an epic Suns collapse/Thunder run clinched a 115-104 Thunder win. As Alex explained in his recap:
The Suns built the lead back up in the third quarter to a full 16 points - an 84-68 lead! - before the wheels came off and the Thunder came to life, finishing the game on a 47-20 run. Phoenix countered MVP-candidate Kevin Durant and Sixth-Man candidate James Harden with the likes of Sebastian Telfair and Michael Redd. Ugh. Double ugh. How do the Suns expect to win with that matchup going on???
A six-point Suns 4th-quarter lead turned into an 8-point Thunder lead in the blink of an eye. Poof. The Suns chances were gone. All it took was a few minutes of Durant/Harden vs. Telfair/Redd.
What to take from that game? The big lead earned early, or the late collapse? Both, of course, and an explosive team like the Thunder will have runs in it. And it wasn't just the Suns defense that was the problem, as their offense went completely stagnant down the stretch when they simply couldn't make a shot.
Key for the Suns tonight will be to stem the tide if/when the Thunder start sizzling. Slow down the pace on offense and get good shots, take it inside and draw fouls. The Thunder will score a lot, there's probably no getting around that. It will be up to the Suns to execute smoothly on offense down the stretch and make key stops on the defensive end. They will probably have to do this without the services of Grant Hill:
Apparently, the Suns would rather rest Hill tonight and let other players, primarily Dudley and Childress, deal with Durant, and have Hill back to guard Chris Paul tomorrow night. Note that the Suns struggled mightily with Hill out due to foul trouble in the previous meeting, so this is definitely cause for concern. They'll have to avoid Durant badly exploiting mismatches as he did in March.
In happier news:
OKC Coach Scott Brooks said Alvin Gentry is his pick for NBA Coach of the Year.— Paul Coro (@paulcoro) April 18, 2012
It will be interesting to see what kind of support Gentry gets for COY. On the one hand, will voters give much consideration to a coach of a slightly above average, fringe playoff team? But then, all of these NBA "experts" who have been bloviating all season about how the Suns were a terrible team have to give credit for the coach who turned them around, right? A playoff berth would help his cause, that's for sure.
Get fired up for this one, Suns fans! This would be a landmark win for this season's Suns.