A fast start, a slow finish. Oklahoma City scored as many points in the fourth quarter (15) as Russell Westbrook did in the first. Kevin Durant shot horribly (5-17). The Thunder rebounded terribly (37-28 in favor of Phoenix). And OKC shot poorly from the line (67 percent). All in all, it added up to just what we expected - another loss.
I wish I could figure out why only two parts of the three part group of Westbrook, Jeff Green and Durant seem to click on a night-to-night basis. Tonight Westbrook was fantastic scoring the ball, netting a career-high 31 on 12-16 shooting with 3-4 from downtown. He also dished five assists, but turned it over six times. Green had 22 and 11 and played a whopping 45 minutes. He did a yeoman's job on Amare Stoudemire, holding him to just 14 points and kept him in foul trouble all night. But Durant. He did have 18 points - most of it coming from the line - but shot just 5-17 from the floor and 0-5 from three. As much praise as he's received from his three-point shooting this month lately, he's gone 2-15 from moneyland the past three games. It doesn't seem like he's taking those threes in rhythm anymore and looks like he's forcing some. I'm not complaining about the guy because everybody deserves an off night, especially after his recent 10 game tear. It's just extremely clear that in order for OKC to actually win, all three parts have to be clicking because the supporting cast isn't going to get the job done.
But there was a huge moment in tonight's game - for the first time in a while, Earl Watson impressed me. Not his overall game because per usual, he had little impact on the game, but his over-the-shoulder, no-look to Robert Swift was really sweet. Other than that, he just frustrated me.
It's clear how weak the Thunder are in the post. Swift got the start, but Shaq just dominated. It appeared as if he could score every possession. He had 28 and 12, but was just dominant in the paint. The Thunder hung tough and led for a about two thirds of the game, but once Phoenix took a 7-10 point lead, it just felt like OKC was hanging on by a thread. At any moment it felt like the Suns could blow this thing open. Of course, a lot of the reason why it never happened was because Steve Nash headed to the locker room early in the first half with back spasms.
It all started to really fall apart late in the third when Phoenix got in the bonus with about five minutes left in the period. But then the Thunder got the bonus too. Which made for a painful final four minutes as basically the teams would play 15 seconds, a whistle would blow and somebody would shoot two freebies. Start the clock and repeat.
The Suns have become a pretty good looking half court team and they run pretty clean sets. Most of it goes through Stoudemire and Shaq, but why wouldn't it? They've got good three-point guys and they've got a good slasher/jump shooter (Jason Richardson). They could be a lot tougher down the road than people are giving them credit for. They're 17-12 and while the Thunder played them tough, the second half never felt to be in doubt. The Suns had control and OKC was scrambling to stay close. Phoenix could probably use another body or two off the bench, especially in the post (Joe Smith could flourish there picking and popping all night long).
Kyle Weaver got quite a bit of burn again and he was relatively productive. But you can see that the NBA game is a little overwhelming for him. At one point he fouled Shaq and gave him an and-one and Scott Brooks called him over and wrapped his arms around Weaver and said, "Wrap him up." Weaver nodded with the kind of look that said, "I think I know I was supposed to do that, but it never occurred to me to actually do it." Maybe he's getting more floor time because Sam Presti is trying to see if he can serve as a decent back-up point guard in order to move Watson. The trade rumors are blowing like the wind in OKC and some moves are likely coming.
I've said it before but I'm sure every OKC feels it every night - we all know what the outcome will likely be each night, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating to watch. If you could really go back and flip about four or five plays in the Thunder's favor, these games might go their way. But that really sums up the difference between good, average and bad teams. The toss up plays never go in the Thunder's favor and as a result, we're looking at a 3-29 record. (Sigh.) It's bad to be that bad, but at least the team is competitive on a nightly basis.
A day off and then back to the Ford to play 9-23 Golden State Wednesday night. I'm not saying anything about it being winnable. Nope. Not gonna say it.