For much of the game, the Oklahoma City Thunder appeared to just be toying with the Phoenix Suns and waiting for the double-digit win to happen.
But it didn't happen until Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant hit back-to-back threes and Durant scored 19 points in the 4th quarter alone (41 for the game).
Click the .gif to watch Durant put down the dunk of the year.
Gortat on the dunk: "We first of all, I was looking for my car keys under the basket. (chuckling). I mean, it happens. The funny thing is that when Perkins was standing under the basket he looked at me and said 'I know how it feels.' "
By the end of his run, Durant was bent over and tugging his shorts like a weekend warrior after a good stretch in a YMCA game.
Westbrook (36 points) and Durant finished with 77 points combined - way too much for the Suns to handle.
Marcin Gortat had a good game (19 and 15), Shannon Brown had 21.
But Michael Beasley had his second good game in a row, this time a double-double - 14 points, 11 rebounds, 2 blocked shots.
The fans might have (the arena was dead for most of the game), but the Suns fought hard against a superior team in terms of talent and execution.
The Suns entered the fourth quarter down only 4 points. After seeing meltdown after meltdown in recent games, could they play a full four quarters?
Kevin Durant barely played nearly the whole game, and started the fourth with 7 quick points to stretch the Thunder lead to 7 with 8:43 left (29 points at that point). Then Russell Westbrook returned (27 points through 3 quarters already) to help the Thunder put the game away.
But the Suns kept fighting. The Thunder's lead ranged between 4-7 points for half the quarter while the Suns scrapped for loose balls, blocked shots and got offensive rebounds to keep possessions alive.
Michael Beasley was part of the charge, with 8 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks by mid-4th. Markieff Morris played tough as well with 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a block. Marcin Gortat scored on a number of pick-and-rolls and lobs to the basket (easier with Nick Collison and Hasheem Thabeet replacing an injured Serge Ibaka).
The Thunder got their needed separation with back-to-back threes by none other than Westbrook and Durant, building the lead to 11 with only 4 minutes left.
Durant walked slowly back to his team's huddle when the Suns called a timeout, a combination of strutting and exhaustion. He'd played all but 4 minutes in this game.
After three quarters, the Suns had cut the Thunder lead to only 4 points despite Kevin Durant playing 32 of the game's first 36 minutes (22 points on 7-17 shooting). Russell Westbrook scored with ease on midrange jumpers and an array of moves near the basket. He had 27 points after three quarters on 12-21 shooting.
The two Thunder stars dominated their team's offense as usual, scoring 49 of OKC's first 72 points. The Suns answered with Shannon Brown's 19 points and Marcin Gortat's 17 and 12. Goran Dragic also had 11.
Oh, the Thunder didn't sleepwalk through the game by any means. Rather they played just good enough to win cleanly.
Russell Westbrook could not be stopped on an array of drives, scoops and midrange jumpers. Kevin Durant could not be stopped with his own array of those same shots. Both Westbrook and Durant played 30 of the first 36 minutes to try to put the Suns away early. They finished the first thr
In the first half the Thunder had their offense when they wanted it, but the Suns could too-easily be stopped. To be more accurate, they could too easily stop themselves.
Three airballs in the first quarter that somehow ended with a 24-21 Suns lead. Four straight turnovers (three by Beasley) during a tough stretch in the second where the Thunder took a strong lead with a 15-2 run. Missing 7 of their first 11 free throws. And that was just the first half.
Yet the Suns only trailed 51-45 at halftime, thanks to a quiet double-double by Marcin Gortat (11 and 10 to that point) and the Suns making 4 of 9 threes (better than their free-throw percentage).
He has been called a sure thing and a franchise changer. Over the next year and a half, a handful of NBA teams will be maneuvering themselves into better draft position in order to land the next Lebron James. Andrew Wiggins, son of former Florida State star and NBA player Mitchell Wiggins, is an uber-athletic wing with incredible explosiveness. He leads his Huntington Prep [WV] team in scoring just over 25 points and grabbing almost 9 rebounds per game.
With him reclassifying to the class of 2013, the 6-8 Wiggins replaced Jabari Parker as the top recruit in the nation. Many feel that Wiggins is the best prospect in the nation, high school and college combined, and that he is a surefire #1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
I had a chance to watch Wiggins in a a 70-49 blowout of Cape Henry Collegiate in a nationally televised game on ESPN. I have to admit that I have not seen Wiggins play prior to this game so I was excited to get the opportunity to see what all the hype was about. I had the chance to see Jabari Parker a week ago on ESPN, so it was an opportunity to get a comparison of the two top ranked players in their class.
Keep in mind, I am of the belief that one game does not make a good scouting report. Players can have good or bad games, and there is no way to know if that is how the player truly plays or if it was a one game phenomenon. So in that spirit, take my review as only a snapshot of one game, and nothing that I say about this kid necessarily means he is or isn’t the player everyone says he is.
The first thing that was readily apparent was Wiggins’ athleticism. This guy is incredibly quick, agile and bouncy. Several times in the game, Wiggins was able to explode by multiple defenders without a care in the world. Even more impressive was the fact he was able to control his body and change direction in order to avoid help defenders trying to take a charge. A lot of player can break players down off the dribble, but it is pretty special to find a player that can avoid the second and third defender. In comparison, Jabari Parker was also very capable breaking past his defender, but was not as nimble avoiding the help defenders, at lest from what I saw of him.
Obviously Wiggins favorite move is to drive and spin in the post. He utilized his spin move frequently to get past his post defender. While it seems to be an effective move, Wiggins did lose his handle on the ball a couple of times and looked as though he was going too fast for his own good. Regardless, he was a capable finisher as he recovered the ball each time.
Wiggins offensive game, at least during this game, seemed limited to slashing and posting. While one might think that is exactly where a 6-8 guy should be, in looking at Wiggins, he projects to be a small forward in every sense of the word. His thin frame and his actions on the court just don’t say "post player" to me. Wiggins seems most comfortable catching the ball from 15 feet and attacking the rim with one or two dribbles, and frankly, nobody seemed able to stop him. His ability to get to the rim, as well as make shots, was evident, partly because he rises so much higher than everyone else and he just got the ball into the basket even when it looked like a tough shot.
Wiggins took two jump shots, both reminiscent of Kendall Marshall - need I say more. I am not sure he can shoot, but in this game, it looked to me that he has limited perimeter skills. His ball handling didn’t quite match up with that of a perimeter player, and certainly is something he is going to need to work on at the next level.
Something that I was very impressed with was Wiggins ability to play within the offense. A lot of times, players of his ability tend to dominate the ball and force shots. Wiggins played his team’s offense and was a willing passer. He didn’t force any action and let the game come to him. He was content with running the plays and giving the ball up, even if it meant not being involved in the score on any given possession. Obviously he trusts his teammates, and why not, they are pretty good. Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a FSU bound combo guard looked pretty solid, and their big kid, Moses Kingsley, while a bit raw, was incredibly active and simply too big for Cape Henry.
Defensively, there was not much to look at. Any time Wiggins man was off the ball, he stood up straight and floated around the floor as if he couldn’t be bothered to defend. When his man had the ball in his hands, Wiggins would only "perk-up" if he felt his man was going to drive. On drives, Wiggins did show some life and an ability to guard the ball, although there were times his lackadaisical defense got him behind on a few drives. Overall, it seemed that if properly motivated, Wiggins can defend on the ball, but needs a lot of work understanding how to play team defense.
My biggest beef with young players today is that while their offensive skills showcase them into the spotlight, it is their ability to defend that will make them truly unique and valuable at the next level. I would love to have seen Wiggins play all out on this end of the floor and show me something about his mentality. He did not and that was very disappointing, especially from someone that is proclaimed to be the next surefire franchise player.
When I look at him in comparison to a guy like Jabari Parker, they are a contrast in styles. Parker is an athletic, perimeter skilled player in the Paul Pierce mode, but clearly not as explosive as Andrew Wiggins. Parker is a much better perimeter player at this point, with a smooth-as-silk shot and excellent ball handling skills. Wiggins looks to be better down low and as a slasher - a Shawn Marion type, with super quick jumping ability [not that he has an ugly shot like Marion, just comparing his jumping ability]. Yet from one game [for both guys] it is difficult to discern that much of a difference between the two to outright claim that Wiggins is the next LeBron James.
At the next level, Wiggins is going to need to improve parts of his game in order to keep pace with all of the hype surrounding him. He needs to dramatically improve his perimeter skills, including his ball handling and his outside shot. While he is currently able to dominate on the high school level utilizing his athleticism, that advantage often disappears against top notch ACC caliber players [that was a little wishful thinking that he will go to UNC]. He also needs to begin to covet the defensive end of the court, as his success there will truly dictate whether he is going to be simply an offensive player, or a true superstar.
From what little I saw, I am not quite as impressed as the hype surrounding him suggests I should be. Don't get me wrong, I was impressed, but I didn’t see the next LeBron. I saw a great high school player, but not someone I would start mortgaging my future for. Granted, he might have had an off game , but if that is the case, what an off game he had [28 points, 8 boards on 10-14 from the field]. Much like the hype surrounding Harrison Barnes, I did not see the game to match. Not that Barnes, or Wiggins, aren’t going to be great players, but I see a number of weaknesses in their games that will hinder their progress. The telling sign is a willingness to work to improve the parts of their games that just aren’t quite there.
Two trains heading in polar opposite directions rarely meet on an equal playing field no matter the circumstances. That may be the case as the Phoenix Suns (13-26) host the Oklahoma City Thunder (29-8) in the teams second meeting this season.
This has been a match-up that has seen runs of dominance by one team for two different stretches. The Suns won four of the first five head-to-head match-ups and the Thunder have taken seven of the last eight. Most recently the Thunder dominated the Suns for four quarters in Oklahoma City 114-96 on the last day of 2012. Happy New Year!
Suns: 106.2 PPG (six wins)
Thunder: 108.8 PPG (nine wins)
Durant vs. Suns: 25.6 PPG 6.1 RPG 44.4 FG%
Westbrook vs. Suns: 20.5 PPG 7.9 APG 47.2 FG%
Traditionally the Thunder put up points on the Suns as evident by the match-up earlier this season. As individuals Durant is average against the Suns (if that is even possible) as they are the 14th best defense he faces in terms of points, 8th best team on the boards against him, and force him to shot the 3rd worst against them. They can D-up Durant, but most of that data comes from the Grant Hill Era.
Westbrook on the other hand torches the Suns to a tune of scoring the 10th most points against the Suns, dishing out the 5th most assists, and shooting the 3rd best against them. Basically these games can become the Russell Westbrook Show in a hurry.
Alluding back to the trains mentioned before. The Suns train is rolling with a head of steam towards the 2013 NBA Draft Lottery Show while the Thunder are eying a return trip to the NBA Finals. In the short five year history of the Thunder (not including the Sonics here on purpose) the team has two wins in the NBA Finals, only two less than the Suns over the span of 45 seasons.
This stretch of games might lead to Lon Babby and Lance Blanks reevaluating their roster and making some moves here soon.
Although the team has been losing a lot as of late -- two wins in thirteen games -- they haven't been embarrassed often. That may change tonight as the best team in the NBA comes to town and may be looking to make a statement on the road after a close call the other night.
With only two games over the next nine days the front office may be looking at this game as a tipping point. After all, they are already talking trades that have been made public.
The Thunder are a team that attacks with their two headed monster of Durant (28.6) and Westbrook (21.8) who keep defenses on guard all game. They are balanced with opportunistic scorers like Serge Ibaka (14.3), Kevin Martin (14.3), and Nick Collison (5.9).
PG - Goran Dragic v. Russell Westbrook
SF - P.J. Tucker v. Kevin Durant
PF - Luis Scola v. Serge Ibaka
C - Marcin Gortat v. Kendrick Perkins
Potential Suns Inactives: Jared Dudley (Right Wrist)
Potential Thunder Inactives: Serge Ibaka (Chest) and Thabo Sefolosha (Neck)
Yeah, not what you would think, right? Let me explain.
With the Suns devoid of Dudley the team will be leaning more on Johnson to give the team a scoring boost off of the bench. On the season Johnson has compiled 23 Did Not Play Coaches Decisions and as of late has played well since getting some playing time due to injuries and unattainable comeback deficits.
As for Martin the Thunder are a different team when he scores the ball. On the season with Martin scoring 18+ points the team is 10-1 and when he is held to single digits, 5-3, both above .500, but obviously they are most beatable when Martin is held in check.
Interesting Stat: 38.3%
Last season that is the total percentage of points Scola, Dragic, and Martin combined to score for the Houston Rockets. They were also the top three scorers for the team in that order. All three are in different roles, on different teams, heading in different directions. The NBA is a fickle fraternity.
Meaningless Stat: 24.4 PPG
Apparently even NBA superstars suffer from the weekend hangover including Durant who scorers a "Day Worst" 24.4 points per game on Mondays. Small sample size of five games, but on every other day that ends in Y the Durantula averages AT LEAST 25.8 points per game. So there is that.
Beasley was on the thinnest of ice s a result of his horrible play. But when Jared Dudley had to sit out against Chicago, Beasley found himself right back in the rotation and playing significant minutes.
With his Suns -- and possibly his NBA -- career on the line, Beasley delivered. The enigmatic forward hit 10 of his 14 shot attempts for 20 points, and also pulled down six rebounds in about 21 minutes of playing time. But was his strong performance Beasley turning a corner? Or did he simply get hot? After watching each of his possessions a handful of times, I believe it was the latter.
Beasley took 14 shots and turned the ball over five times, for a total of 19 possessions used by Beasley. For those with short attention spans, just read the headlines and look at the pretty pictures. For the rest of you, let's take a look at each one.
Beasley's first touch comes on the left wing. Beasley crosses over and drives middle, but he can't get past his man, Jimmy Butler. Instead of pulling it out or passing to a teammate, Beasley tries to rise and finish over Butler and loses the ball out of bounds in the process for the turnover.
Sebastian Telfair starts the possession with the ball on the left side, while Beasley waits on the weak side. Bassy swings it to Luis Scola at the top of the key, and Beasley circles around to take the dribble-hand off from Scola. Butler goes under Scola instead of staying tight on Beasley, and in essence the hand off turns into a screen. Beasley rises up and knocks down the open shot, but has a toe on the line.
The Suns get the ball inside to Marcin Gortat, and Beasley cuts behind Gortat, losing his man and taking the hand off for the explosive dunk. He finished it with a half pull-up and could have been called for a technical, but it was pretty nonetheless. This is a play we run for Shannon Brown at least once a game, and I really wish we would use it more.
Telfair drives and kicks it out to Beasley. Beasley was the last one down the court and was open at the top of the key. He gets a little excited though and shuffles his feet while trying to drive down the lane an is called for the travel. Turnover number two.
Beasley sets a screen for Bassy, and gets the ball on the roll. He tries to drive baseline, but again can't get past Butler. So Beasley pulls a sweet drop step into the lane then pivot back move and hits a tough turn-around fadeaway jumper from about 10 feet.
Beasley begins the possession by setting a screen for Brown off the ball. On the screen Beasley's man Luol Deng turns his head for a second, and Beasley pops out to the 3-point line. Beasley gets the ball, and as Deng tries to recover he gets caught on a Gortat screen. Beasley steps in and away from Deng for the rhythm 18-foot jumper and sinks it.
This play was really made by Bassy, but Beasley ran the floor and got rewarded for his effort. Bassy deflects a pass and tracks it down for the steal, and Beasley takes off and beats everyone down the floor. Bassy hits him in stride and he throws it down for his second dunk of the game.
Beasley catches the ball on the wing an runs the pick-and-roll with Gortat. The defense gives him space, and Beasley steps into an open elbow jumper. Two points.
Beasley runs off a screen to get open and take the in-bounds pass at the top of the key. He beats his man (Deng on this play) and avoids Kirk Hinrich who is trying to set up for the charge, but as he tries to go up and finish Beasley gets swatted by Joakim Noah. When Beasley gets to the basket, there is still five seconds left on the clock. He also has three defenders around him, meaning two guys -- in this case Telfair and Gortat -- were wide open. Instead, Beasley challenges a very good shot-blocker in Noah and pays the price.
I can't fault Beasley's effort here. There wasn't much time and he took it strong to the basket. It just wasn't the wisest decision in this case. Gortat also could have made it easier on him by following Beasley on his drive and getting closer, instead of hanging back at the elbow. However ...
Beasley is fortunate. Noah keeps the ball in play on the block, and Beasley is able to grab it and make the easy bunny with time to spare.
This shot was probably Beasley's worst decision in this game, and it was vintage Beasley. Beasley brings the ball up the court, and as he goes to call a play Deng goes for the steal. Beasley spins past the gamble by Deng and dribbles forward ...
Only to pull-up a step inside the 3-point line instead of pressing the Suns' advantage. The result? Total brick with 17 seconds on the shot clock.
Beasley Isolates on Deng at the top of the key and tries to drive left. Deng stays in front of him, so Beasley rises up and hits a really tough pull-up jumper over the 6-foot-9 Deng. This was a pretty bad shot that just went in.
This was a good play that was ruined by a miscommunication. Gortat gets the ball at the elbow, and Beasley runs past him and takes the hand off. Taj Gibson switches over to Beasley, but Beasley is still able to turn the corner and get to the basket. He draws the help defender, leaving Markieff Morris open under the basket. Both players recognize their advantage, but just aren't on the same page. It looks to me like Morris pointed up, calling for a lob pass, and then prepared to jump.
Instead, Beasley throws a bullet pass that bounces off Morris' hands/chest and out of bounds for the turnover.
This was simply a horrible, horrible call by the referee. Beasley tries to post up and the ref calls an offensive foul. Nothing happened.
Beasley takes another hand off from Gortat, this time on the other elbow and going to his right. Instead of driving he pulls up for the long two and misses.
This was the play of the game for Beasley. He runs the court and Bassy hits him out on the perimeter. On the catch Beasley gives a very slight head fake, and it's enough to get Hinrich the leave his feet.
That allows Beasley to blow by him and throw down a ferocious one-handed dunk.
Beasley begins this possession by setting a screen for Bassy, and he receives the ball as he rolls out to the corner. Beasley backs Daequan Cook down a couple dribbles, then kicks the ball back out to Bassy as Hinrich showed for the double. Beasley holds his position and gets the ball back near the elbow. With the shot clock under five seconds, Beasley rises up and hits a fadeaway jumper over the shorter Cook.
Beasley gets the ball on the wing, drives to his right, and loses the ball when he tries to rise up -- for a shot or pass I don't know.
Beasley catches the ball in the corner, surveys the court for a second and decides his best option is to jab step and rise up for a contested 2-pointer from 3-point range. There was only five seconds left on the clock, but it was still a bad shot. At least get behind the line.
There is no doubting that Beasley had a very good game, possibly his best as a Sun. He was the team's second-leading scorer (behind Scola's 22), contributed on the boards, was +8 for the game and scored nearly half the team's points in the second quarter. If he continues to play like this, then we may finally have found the guy the Suns thought they were getting back in July.
However, looking at each of the plays, I don't think Beasley played all that much differently than he has been. The difference was that his shots went in. He still took a lot of mid-to-long range jumpers (nine of his 14 shots were of this variety) and didn't get to the free throw line even one time. Beasley continues to rely on a jumpshot that has proven to be unreliable so far in his Suns career.
Beasley is simply not an isolation scorer. He's just not. He's not fast enough nor does he handle the ball well enough to beat people off the dribble, and he doesn't draw contact. Beasley isolated six times in this game, shooting 1-4 with two turnovers. In every other play type, he was 9-10 with three turnovers (one of which was the bogus offensive foul call). Please, please, please stop isolating Michael Beasley. Doing so is setting him up to fail (a large part of this is on Beasley himself an his decision-making, but the coaching staff deserves some blame as well).
Beasley did very well taking hand-offs in this game, going 2-3 from the field with that miscommunication turnover on an otherwise good play. Get Beasley moving and use a big man to create some space for him. Hand offs, screens and post touches are the only way Beasley is going to be effective. We need to run plays for him, because if we let him play free he's going to take a jumper. That's all there is to it.
Beasley needs to be a finisher, not a creator. In that role, he'll be less reliant on jumpers and the jumpers he does get will usually be better looks with a better chance of going in. Beasley is a guy who can get hot in a hurry and go off at any time. But for that to happen, he needs to see the ball go in the basket a couple times.
What will we see from Beasley tonight? I have no idea. If I was a betting man I'd put my money on Beasley playing like he normally has this season. I just didn't see much reason to believe he has started to get it in this game. But if he can carry over some confidence from this performance, and not only shoot better but start to play to his strengths more, he might be still salvageable.