The Oklahoma City Thunder trailed by 13 two-and-a-half minutes into the second half against the Phoenix Suns tonight, and it looked like another awful loss was on the horizon. The Thunder bench had other plans, however, and after an impressive start to the fourth quarter, Oklahoma City was able to close out and pick up the 114-106 win in Phoenix.
The Thunder offense looked solid early, but the defense was quite the opposite. Russell Westbrook shot a solid 4/7 for 11 points to lead Oklahoma City in the first quarter to go along with four rebounds and four assists, and Carmelo Anthony had six points and two rebounds, but the defense had one of its worst quarters of the season as the Suns led 37-32 after twelve minutes.
The second quarter looked very much the same as the first, but worse. The Thunder offense struggled compared to the second quarter, but the defense continued to be a letdown as Phoenix pushed their lead to as many as 12 points with two minutes left in the first half. Oklahoma City finally stepped it up and made some stops, though, and was able to cut into the deficit a bit before halftime. At the end of the second quarter, the Suns were on top 67-60.
The third quarter got off to an awful start as Phoenix jumped out to a 13-point lead, the largest of the night for the Suns, and it looked as if the game was on the brink of getting out of hand. The Thunder was able to stick around, though, as Russell Westbrook scored 16 points alone in the period, and Oklahoma City had begun a comeback and trailed by only two. With only twelve minutes left in the game, the Thunder was hot on the heels of the Suns 99-97.
The fourth quarter began with some apprehension as Thunder head coach Billy Donovan chose to start the fourth quarter with no starters, but it was actually the second unit that led the comeback in Phoenix. Donovan did not make a substitution until it was nearly at the halfway mark of period, and in that time, the Thunder bench was able to outscore Phoenix 13-5 to take a six-point lead.
Westbrook continued his incredible night as he scored eight points in the final 1:40 of the game, and Oklahoma City was able to escape with yet another close win against a bad team.
3 Quick Thoughts
- Crunch Time Wins Are Encouraging: While it would be nice if Oklahoma City could blow out these lesser-talented teams, Thunder fans should be encouraged that Oklahoma City is coming away with a win at all at this point. The Thunder had struggled early in the season to finish off games and get away with a win, but in four close games since returning from the All-Star Break, Oklahoma City has finished and gotten the win. With 17 games remaining, the Thunder is set to take on 14 teams that are either in a playoff spot or jockeying for one, and these games undoubtedly have the possibility of coming down to the final seconds. While these close wins have not exactly been impressive, they should definitely serve as confidence boost for the Thunder.
- Bench Shows Up Big Again: Oklahoma City’s bench has been inadequate and inconsistent for a lot of the season, but they have been mostly good as of late. Tonight was no different as they were a key factor to the Thunder’s comeback in the fourth quarter. Billy Donovan typically starts the final period off with the all-bench unit and substitutes after a few minutes in, but tonight, he let the second unit run the show for nearly half the quarter as they were able to find success that the starters had not seen. Tonight, it looked like the starters were playing with a lack of enthusiasm while the bench played with an energy that could not be matched. If the Thunder’s bench is able to play with this level of consistency, then they could be in a good place headed into playoffs.
- Westbrook Breaks Out of Slump: One of the more encouraging aspects of the evening was seeing Russell Westbrook shoot 16/25 (64%) from the floor and 2/4 (50%) from three. Since returning from the All-Star Break, Westbrook had played some of his worst games of the season, but tonight, he was the key to finishing off the Suns. As has been the case for the last two seasons, this team will go only as far as Russell Westbrook goes. If he is not playing well, the entire team seems to struggle, but when he excels, his teammates seemingly feed off of his energy. He needs to continue his strong play and recognize his role as the leader of this team. If he can do that, the Thunder will be just fine.
Pushing On To Portland
The Thunder looks to round out this three-game road trip against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Saturday night. The Thunder is 0-2 against the Blazers so far this season, and Portland is currently on a five-game win streak, including three in a row at home. Tip-off is set for 9 PM CT and will be televised on Fox Sports Oklahoma. The game will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1 FM.
Be sure to check out this week’s episode of Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and like us on Facebook.