Thunder Falls in Phoenix Due to Defensive Woes

After consecutive double-digit wins in Los Angeles over the Lakers and the Clippers, the Oklahoma City Thunder looked to end their short road trip with a high note by grabbing another win, this time against the Suns in Phoenix. From the start, the Thunder struggled to defend, and a young Suns squad had too much firepower as Oklahoma City fell 100-114 in Phoenix.

Oklahoma City had almost no issues on the offensive end to get things started as Paul George opened up the scoring with a three, and two-and-a-half minutes into the game, the Thunder led 9-4.

As good as the offense was early, the defense was bad. The Suns tied things at 16-16 with 5:33 left in the period, and after a 6-0 run by the Thunder, Phoenix would go on a 12-1 run to finish the first quarter. After 12 minutes, Oklahoma City trailed Phoenix 23-28.

The second quarter was much of the same as Russell Westbrook was able to lead the Thunder on offense, finishing the first half with 17 points on 8/15, along with six rebounds and four assists. Paul George added 11 points on 3/7 and Steven Adams had 10 points on 5/6, but the Phoenix offense was just too much for Oklahoma City’s defense.

The Suns manhandled the Thunder by grabbing 11 offensive rebounds and racking up 20 second-chance points. Despite shooting better from the field and from three, Oklahoma City was an awful 5/12 from the free throw line in the first half, and the Thunder trailed the Suns 53-62 at halftime.

The Thunder came out of the locker room after halftime with what looked like a change of tone as Terrance Ferguson forced a turnover and scored a layup off a pass from Russell Westbrook to get things going early. The effort did not last long, though, as the Suns pushed their lead to 14, their largest of the night at the time, just a little over four minutes into the third period.

Then a switch of some sort flipped, and it was the Thunder offense that could not be stopped. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Steven Adams would take Oklahoma City on a 15-2 run to get within a point of Phoenix with 5:03 left in the third. The highlight of the run was a lob pass from Westbrook to Adams, who threw it down for an incredible dunk.

It looked like Oklahoma City was turning things around and was on the brink of taking the lead, but Phoenix was thinking otherwise. The Thunder had incredible difficulty defending the perimeter, and the Suns would outscore them 14-7 in the final five minutes of the third quarter to carry a 90-82 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Thunder desperately needed a spark to get back in the game, and the lineup to start the fourth quarter did not feature Russell Westbrook, Paul George, or Carmelo Anthony. Surprisingly, the bench unit was able to cut the deficit to six 85 seconds into the period, but it didn’t last for long. Phoenix blew the game wide open as the Suns went on a 14-2 run over the next four minutes to give them their largest lead of the night at 107-89.

No matter what Oklahoma City did in the last half of the fourth quarter, including Russell Westbrook tallying his 14th triple-double of the season with 26 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds, Phoenix had an answer, and when it came down to it, the early defensive woes ended up costing the Thunder the game.

3 Quick Thoughts

  • We Miss You Dre: Andre Roberson’s defensive impact cannot be mentioned enough on a night like tonight. For the third consecutive game, Roberson had to sit out with a knee injury, and it has become more and more obvious that what he does on the defensive end of the floor for the Thunder is irreplaceable. He should be back sooner than later, but if he has to miss any more time, Oklahoma City needs to step up its effort on defense and improve the communication on rotations and help situations.
  • 50/50 Balls Are Defining Moments: A lot of times a game can be decided not because one team is better than another but because one team hustles harder than the other, and that was the case tonight. Oklahoma City is without a doubt a more talented team than Phoenix, but the Suns were able to do things throughout the game that gave them an edge over the Thunder. Phoenix grabbed 12 offensive rebounds which led to 23 second-chance points. The Thunder were able to edge the Suns 44-42 in points in the paint, but T.J. Warren was able to score 18 points in the paint on his own for Phoenix, which killed Oklahoma City early. When it comes down to it, the Thunder cannot allow less talented teams to out hustle and outplay them, as it typically is the difference between a win and a loss.
  • Take Care of the Little Things: Not to take away from the Phoenix Suns, but a part of Oklahoma City’s loss tonight was the Thunder beating themselves. Oklahoma City shot an abysmal 12/21 (57.1%) from the free throw line, marking the ninth time this season that the Thunder has shot at or below 60%. Another area that killed Oklahoma City was perimeter defense. The Phoenix Suns came into tonight shooting 33.5% from three, but they managed to shoot 17/39 (43.6%) tonight, led by Dragan Bender’s 6/8 (75%) and Devin Booker’s 5/10 (50%). Defending the three is a slightly more difficult and unpredictable aspect of the game, but with Andre Roberson out, the biggest issue here is a lack of communication.

Headed Back Home

The Oklahoma City Thunder heads back home as they prepare to host the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday night. The game will tip at 7 PM CT and will be televised on FSOK and NBA TV. The game will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1 FM.

Be sure to check out our latest episode of Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.

Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

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