Thunder at Phoenix Suns Game Recap – April 7, 2017

PHOENIX – An hour after the game ended, Russell Westbrook finally left the practice floor inside the Phoenix Suns’ arena. As a riff on a ritual that he and his father utilized when he was a kid, Westbrook spent that time on the floor alone to center himself and assess his own play. When he came back to the locker room, he showed why he’s one of the most important figures on any NBA team, and why his leadership is crucial to the Thunder.

“We didn’t come out with a sense of urgency. That started with myself, just going through the motions,” Westbrook said. “I wasn’t myself. I have to come out and be ready. I set a standard for myself that’s really high. Sometimes it’s good for me, sometimes it’s bad for me. I can live with that. I want to make sure I stay up to my standard and hold up my end of the bargain for my team.”

After two strong showings, Friday night’s 120-99 loss to the Phoenix Suns was a dud for the Thunder, and one that caused Head Coach Billy Donovan and all the guys in the locker room to note that the effort and energy has to be better collectively both on Sunday in Denver but also in the postseason, which starts next week.

The Thunder simply didn’t have it offensively on Friday night, personified by Westbrook’s 0-for-11 start from the field. That carried over to the defensive end, where the Thunder allowed 40 points in the paint in the first half on lapses in both transition and in the halfcourt. The Suns burst out to a 14-2 lead and never looked back, except for a brief spurt to start the second half. Leak outs, backdoor cuts and driving layups allowed the Suns to get it going early and shoot a blistering 51.8 percent from the field for the game.

“Two things were a problem there in the first half, one was the points in the deep paint and then about 40 percent of their missed shots they got back,” Donovan explained. “They did a really good job of attacking the paint and the teeth of our defense and when we did get some stops we had a difficult time rebounding the ball.”

The Thunder did show signs of life in the third quarter when it burst out of the gates after halftime with a 23-6 run to pull back within 11 at 77-66 with 6:33 to go. The ball was moving crisply, multiple players were getting involved in the scoring column and overall, the Thunder started to look like themselves again. That’s when the Suns made one more push, a 13-2 burst to push the lead back into the 20s, and the Thunder never threatened after that.

“We generated some good shots and made some extra passes. We got some stuff at the basket. We got out in transition,” Donovan said. “The biggest thing is we started that third quarter getting some stops.”

Most thought it couldn’t be done again, but Russ will officially finish the season averaging a TD! #hist0ry #thePeoplesChamp

A post shared by Oklahoma City Thunder (@okcthunder) on Apr 7, 2017 at 8:30pm PDT

Westbrook finished the game with 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, which clinched the 820 assist plateau that he needed to reach to seal a triple-double average for the season. On top of the fact that he’ll have an average of at least 10 rebounds and 10 assists, Westbrook has also solidified a 30-point scoring average.

As a result, the fans in Phoenix were waiting with bated breath for every point, assist and rebound that Westbrook racked up. He didn’t manage his 42nd triple-double of the season that would break Oscar Robertson’s 55-year old record, but Westbrook’s did become the first player since 1961-62 to seal a triple-double average for the year.

“I definitely appreciate it and don’t take it for granted,” Westbrook said. “But my main goal since I got here and especially this this season is to win a championship. As the leader of the team I have to make sure we’re moving in the right direction.”

“It’s a great thing to see that the fans support our team and follow sports,” Westbrook continued. “At the same time, we have to make sure that we come out and that I come out and our team is ready to go.”

Watch: Hist0ry Made

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By the Numbers

11 – Rebounds for Steven Adams, including eight on the offensive end, as a part of a 12-point double-double

51.8-36.6 – The differential in shooting percentages on the night in favor of the Suns

822 – Total assists this season for Russell Westbrook, securing a triple-double average for the season

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The Last Word

“We had some plays around the basket. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. That was certainly a problem for us tonight. Even when we did get good looks, we weren’t able to make enough shots.” – Head Coach Billy Donovan

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