After a quick start by the Thunder, Goran Dragic went into "Dragon" mode, scoring 13 of the Suns first 15 points on 6-7 shooting. The Thunder just had too much firepower and led from the first basket after the opening tip. Kevin Durant did his part to match Dragic's pyrotechnics by pouring in four three pointers in four attempts. Dragic finished the quarter with 16. Durant led the Thunder with 12. Both teams shot the ball exceptionally well (Suns - 54.5%, Thunder - 60%) in a frenetic, free-wheeling quarter. Score: OKC 33, Suns 27.
The Suns took advantage of an interlude where Durant and Russell Westbrook (two early fouls) weren't on the floor and closed the gap, using an 8-0 run to tie the score at 35. The Suns stout defense was compromised, however, when Durant made Markieff Morris a Sportscenter top 10 casualty with a physics defying dunk. The Suns took their first lead of the game (46-44) on a 20 foot jumper by Michael Beasley over Westbrook. The better part of the period was tightly contested, but the Thunder ended the half on a 9-2 run. Score: OKC 55, Suns 50.
The Suns shot 53.5% in the first half, while OKC shot 51.2%. The Thunder were 7-10 from three point range. Goran Dragic led the way for Phoenix with 16 points (all in the first quarter) and 4 assists, while Durant had 16 points and 4 rebounds for the Thunder. The Thunder led in fast break points 16-4. Three Suns starters (Gortat, Dudley and Tucker) scored zero points in the first half on 0-4 combined shooting.
The Thunder opened up the third period, and the game, with a 12-5 run. Suns coach Lindsey Hunter tried to stymie the Thunder's run with a timeout four minutes into the quarter, but the Suns couldn't gain traction and it ballooned to 26-5, putting the Thunder on top 81-55 before the Suns finally scored a bucket. Westbrook followed after his partner in crime with a stentorian jam on a breakaway during the game-deciding stretch. The Suns ended up losing the quarter, and the game for that matter, 36-20. Score: OKC 91, Suns 70.
Garbage time. Game over. OKC wins 127-96 (Did you really expect me to keep trying after the Suns obviously quit?)
Player of the Game:
Nobody from the Thunder was really on the floor long enough to put up extraordinarily gaudy stats, although Westbrook's return after early foul trouble coincided with the soul crushing run by OKC, so I'll give the Thunder's starting five the nod. They were a combined +148 after all...
Comments of the Game:
Goran vs Durant so far.
Too bad it's 5 on 5. Their other 4 are quite a bit better that our other 4.
0 FGA for Gortat. He must be loving it.
So, looks like Holiday Inn Beasley is in effect.
If we gonna lose
I am happy for it to be a 115-110 game.
24 to 5 in this quarter.
Way to go in the second half Suns. Bravo.
Stealth tanking strikes again.
Make it seem like we're trying, but really just give up the game in the second half for the purpose of tanking.
Do you remember when the Suns last scored a field goal?
Pepperidge farms remembers...
All part of the plan. We're lulling them to sleep so we can jump all over them and win the second game.
This game shows the uselessness of timeouts.
They haven't once changed the flow of the game.
Parching start by Goran Dragic. The Thunder looked like they might jump out to an early lead, but Goran quelled those concerns with a proliferation of points. I am sure, without checking the veracity of my claim, that 16 first quarter points is a season high for the Suns.
Kevin Durant's posterization of Markieff Morris in the second quarter. Just because the Suns were on the receiving end doesn't mean it wasn't jaw-dropping.
Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and P.J. Tucker combined for zero points on 0-4 shooting in the first half. Dragic was shouldering the lion's share of the scoring early, but having three starters disappear for an entire half on the offensive end of the court is not a recipe for success.
Who likes 26-5 runs to start the third quarter? Well, sure they're good when you're the 26, but the Suns were definitely the 5. For that matter, it was actually a 21-0 run at one point, which stings even worse. How does a team follow up a competitive half of basketball by laying down and dying? I guess that's a good question for the postgame press conference (and the entire damn season).
The Thunder are really good. The Suns, not so much. Hopefully the Suns can avoid getting humiliated on their home floor in two days. Good luck.
When: Friday, February 8, 2013, 6:00 PM local time (8:00 EST)
Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR
The first meeting between the teams this season was in Oklahoma City on December 31, 2012. The Thunder rang in the New Year by ringing the Suns bell 114-96. Oklahoma City used a 30-18 fourth quarter to turn a fairly competitive game into a laugher. Even though the score was close through three quarters, though, it seemed that the Thunder were coasting and then turned on the afterburners.
Russell Westbrook went for 24 points, 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 stitches in the game and all-everything teammate Kevin Durant scored 30 points despite PJ Tucker's incessant defense. Luis Scola led the Suns with 24 points and Goran Dragic had 16 points and 8 assists, albeit alongside 5 turnovers.
Oklahoma City: 37-12
Points per game: 106.2 (1st) Points allowed: 97.4 (15th) -- Full team statistics
The Thunder enter this game having gone just 5-4 over their last nine games, which, ironically enough, is only one game better than the Suns over that stretch. Oklahoma City's recent losses have all been away from the Energy Arena, however, where they are 22-3 on the season. Oklahoma City's last loss at home was on January 2nd against the Brooklyn Nets.
Kevin Durant is having an MVP season. He leads the league in scoring (29.3) and is pacing for a 50/40/90 season while doing so. Durant displays his versatility by also ranking second on the team in rebounds, assists and blocks. Russell Westbrook is Durant's fearless sidekick, ranking in the top 10 in the league in scoring (7th), assists (5th) and steals (4th). Westbook is the only player in the league in the top 10 in those three categories. The next closest is LeBron James, who is no lower than 13th in the same areas.
Durant and Westbrook are truly Thunder Buddies.
Besides the dynamic duo, OKC's roster is filled out with very good complementary players. Serge Ibaka is fourth on the team in scoring (13.8), first in rebounding (8.1) and first in blocks (2.9 - second in the NBA) and Kevin Martin supplies instant offense off the bench and is lights out from three.
Phoenix Suns: 17-33
Points per game: 95.3 (20th) Points allowed: 99.6 (22nd) -- Full team statistics
The Suns are still getting their bearings after a midseason coaching change. Head coach Lindsey Hunter (defense) and lead assistant Igor Kokoskov (offense) are working in concert to educate players on the nuances of new schemes and acclimate the team to rotational changes.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. After a 2-0 start to the "Lindsey Hunter era" of Suns basketball the team has lost five of their last seven games. The mercurial nature of the team is not unprecedented, as the Suns have had many come from behind victories this season. The simple truth is that role players tend to be inconsistent and the Suns consist completely of role players. To illustrate the erratic play, in six of the nine games during Hunter's early tenure the Suns have outscored their opponents by at least ten in the fourth quarter three times (wins) and been outscored in the fourth quarter by at least ten three times (losses). Fickle indeed.
The Suns have allowed 90 points per game in their four wins. In the losses they've allowed 106.6. It's been very hard to gauge which incarnation of the Suns will show up on any given night. What's become readily apparent, though, is that Hunter has made Michael Beasley and rookie Kendall Marshall part of the regular rotation. However, it remains to be seen whether this current trend will crystallize or more permutations are in store in the coming days.
What To Watch For:
The Evolution of Marshall: After playing his best game as a Sun against the Grizzlies, Kendall regressed in an underwhelming performance against the Hornets. That's to be expected for a rookie that's just now getting his first real burn of the season. It's nice to see that Marshall has finally been unleased, though, because if a team can't play their lottery pick during the course of a lost season... well, let's just say it's not good.
Russell Westbrook: For the Suns to have a chance in this game they will need to make Westbrook a volume scorer. If he gets 24 points on 21 shots, mission accomplished. If he gets 24 points on 15 shots it is hard to envision a scenario where the Suns win. The problem is that the Suns don't really appear to have anyone capable of guarding Westbrook in any effective capacity. If Westbrook flounders it may have more to do with Westbrook than the Suns defense.
Stepping Up: Durant and Westbrook have a very high likelihood of stepping up for the Thunder. Even some of their worst games are in line with better than average performances by Suns starters. But who will bring it for the Suns? Beasley and Dragic have been the main culprits lately, but it would be fortuitous for another member of the Suns to have a spectacular performance.
2013 Lottery Watch
The Suns are currently in 7th place (by virtue of holding the tie breaker against the Kings) in the race for the #1 seed in the lottery. Currently, seeds 4-9 are only separated by 2.5 games.
The Lakers are still on the outside looking in and trail the Rockets by 3.5 games after a 116-95 loss last night at Boston. The Lakers 13th pick would be transferred to the Suns if the season ended today.
Tonight's Games of Interest:
Nets (29-20) @ Wizards (13-35)
Lakers (23-27) @ Bobcats (11-37)
Raptors (17-32) @ Pacers (31-19)
Hornets (16-33) @ Hawks (27-21)
Spurs (39-11) @ Pistons (18-32)
Magic (14-35) @ Cavaliers (15-34)
The Final Word(s):
A win will easily be the Suns best victory of the season. A loss will improve lottery seeding. The game provides Suns fans the opportunity to see their team match up against two of the most salient stars in the NBA. The early start time allows locals to hit the town after the game. I'm doing game coverage.
What a perfect storm of perfectness. A storm where the Suns hope to bring the thunder.
Goran Dragic was having what can kindly be described as a forgettable game in Memphis on Tuesday. Through 3 quarters, Dragic had scored just two points. However, after a 17-point first half by Marcin Gortat, the Suns were still hanging around at the end of the third quarter, trailing 71-65.
The Suns started out well in the fourth quarter and cut the deficit in half at 77-74 with just under seven-and-a-half minutes remaining. At that point, the Dragon emerged, and much havoc did he wreak. The Suns' point guard scored or assisted on the next 20 points before a pair of Gortat free throws sealed a 96-90 victory. Let's take a look at how he pulled the run off.
Dragic actually got himself going on the defensive end, stealing the ball and taking it all the way to the basket for the first of his three and-one plays.
Above you can see Dragic reading the pass and breaking on the ball. He gets a hand in there, knocks the ball away, tracks it down and takes it down the court.
Dragic gets all the way to the basket, goes up for the layup, gets hit by Jerryd Bayless and still manages to finish the play. He sinks the free throw, and it's a whole new ball game.
This play didn't result in a bucket for the Suns, but it should have been an assist as Dragic created a wide-open look for Markieff Morris.
Kendall Marshall brings the ball down and passes it off to Morris near the top of the key. Morris gives it up to Dragic on the left wing, and he takes it to the rim, completely collapsing the defense. Dragic kicks it out to Morris for the wide-open 3-pointer, which unfortunately rims out.
Good play by Dragic, but the shot just didn't go down.
Memphis scored to retake the lead, but Dragic answered with his second three-point play on another tough layup.
Marshall again brings the ball down the court as Dragic sets up on the baseline. Dragic runs off a down screen and flashes to the top of the key, receiving the ball from Marshall.
As soon as Dragic gets the ball, he looks to attack and runs off a screen by Morris.
Memphis hedges the screen, but Dragic gets around it, past two more defenders and all the way into the paint.
Dragic elevates and finishes through the contact, completing the 3-point play at the charity stripe and giving the Sun the lead.
Dragic created another open 3-pointer on this play, only this time Marshall was able to connect.
Marshall brings the ball down before giving it up to Dragic. Dragic runs a pick-and-roll with Gortat, and Memphis looks to trap him hard with both Conley and Zach Randolph jumping at him.
Gortat rolls right down the middle of the lane, forcing the weak side wing, Bayless, to leave Marshall and rotate over to Gortat.
Dragic hits the wide-open Marshall on the wing, and he fires away before Bayless can recover and properly contest the shot. The ball goes down smooth as butter, and the Suns retake the lead.
Following a stop, the Suns are able to add onto their lead with Dragic's third and final and-one of the quarter.
Marshall brings the ball down and hands it off to Dragic on the right wing, where Gortat comes up to set a screen.
Dragic attacks off the solid Gortat screen, forcing the switch.
Dragic bounces off the contact but is strong enough to maintain his balance and get a shot off, which he made. The continuation was awarded and he finished the play at the free-throw line.
This play was a near miss, as Dragic beat his man but Marshall missed him.
Marshall runs a high pick-and-roll with Dragic in the strong side corner. Dragic steps toward the ball, then cuts backdoor, fooling his man and getting a step on him. Unfortunately, Randolph jumped at Marshall and he got a little excited, passing too soon and way off target for a turnover.
Dragic loves the spin move, and he used it on this play masterfully to get Jermaine O'Neal an easy dunk.
Dragic pushed the ball up the court in transition as he is wont to do, and although he didn't have numbers he apparently didn't feel like he needed them and kept attacking the basket.
Arthur appears to cut off his path to the basket, but it takes more than that to stop a Dragon. He spins back to his left, splitting Arthur and Bayless.
Surrounded by three Grizzlies, Dragic makes the smart play and dumps it off for O'Neal, who is rolling down the lane.
And boom goes the the dynamite. A dazzling dime by Dragic.
This was really the only time the Grizzlies stopped Dragic all quarter. He sets up a pick-and-roll, but this time Memphis is successful with the hedge. However, Dragic attacks anyway, looking for the foul, and puts up a terrible shot attempt. No call.
This was the ridiculous play where Dragic used a series of pivots and fakes until Memphis stopped defending him.
Dragic takes the hand-off from Gortat at the high post and curls off him, using the big man to set a screen.
Dragic tries to drive, but Arthur steps in front of him and forces him to pick up his dribble. At this point, it looks like the play is dead and he has nowhere to go.
Instead of trying to pass it back out, Goran uses a pump fake to get Conley in the air. However, Arthur is still between him and the basket.
Conley recovers and Arthur is still there, so Goran fakes a pass out to the perimeter, tricking the Grizzlies into relaxing a bit.
Goran turns back towards the basket after the fake and finds himself wide open, as Conley is still above him and Arthur inexplicably decided Gortat in the corner was a bigger threat than Dragic was eight feet from the basket.
So with the big man no longer blocking his path, Dragic elevates and finishes for two.
This was an incredible display of balance and patience by Dragic. I think I may have even missed a fake or two (tough to screen cap every one). And he did in fact keep his pivot foot down the whole time, so no travel.
On this trip down the court, Dragic used a couple screen and got knocked down as the big man tried to get out and hedge. The Suns were in the bonus, and Dragic knocked them both down.
Dragic ended his run with a killer cross-over and pull-up jumper.
Dragic dribbles some time off the clock before getting into his move. He starts heading to his left hand, hesitates for a second, then...
He blows by Conley with a sick crossover.
Even better, after the crossover Dragic ran Conley off an O'Neal screen, completely freeing him to pull up for the open elbow jumper. Buckets.
That last jumper concluded a 15-point, 2 assist quarter for Dragic that I'm sure induced several flashbacks to the 2010 playoff series against San Antonio. It was a masterful performance by Dragic, one in which he did almost everything right. Marshall may have brought the ball down the court the majority of the time, but Dragic was the one running the point on offense and making things happen. Dragic was unstoppable on and off the ball, and he carried the Suns to victory.
It's unlikely that we're going to see anything like this again in the near future, but let's hope Dragic can carry some momentum over into this weekend (again, let's ignore that game against the Pelicans). We're going to need him to channel his inner Dragon all game long to have any shot in this home and home against Oklahoma City.