Suns show valiant effort in 110-106 loss to Thunder
On the final day of 2015 the Phoenix Suns took on the Oklahoma City Thunder in a constant back and forth battle. The Suns young players looked good, while the Thunder superstars took care of business.
The Thunder are a great team. They are much improved from last season and when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are both healthy, they are a dangerous duo. Durant had 23 points, two rebounds, two assists, and a block. He had decent numbers, but the Suns were able to keep him from heating up and getting into rhythm. Westbrook, however, was able to get into a rhythm posting 36 points, a rebound, 12 assists, and five steals. I still look at this as a victory for the Suns. If both Durant and Westbrook got hot this game would not have been close. I’m happy with the way that they kept Durant in check for the most part.
Experience was a major factor in this game. The Thunder have more experience in winning close games. The Suns are still trying to get their rotations figured out. Tonight was much better for the Phoenix rotations in my opinion. The starters got more consistent minutes and this was helpful for getting in the groove. T.J. Warren started and played 40 minutes. He had a career night with 29 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and four steals. His unorthodox shooting often catches teams off guard. That was the case tonight, but he also did some damage from long range going 3-5 from three point land. Warren made a strong case to remain in the starting lineup.
Devin Booker had a mixed night. He showed some flashes of greatness, but there were also moments where he looked a little lost. He had 12 points, three rebounds, and five assists, but he also had five turnovers. He got himself into tough situations where he would try to draw a foul and end up turning the ball over a few too may times. He will improve though. I’m already very impressed with his game as a rookie and I think there are big things to come in his future with the Suns.
A major issue that the Suns continue to have is that Brandon Knight insists on taking (and missing) long range pull up jumpers early in the shot clock. This is not helpful for the team at all. Often times he can make these shots in transition, but tonight he tried to take these shots in half court sets and they were demoralizing. He shot 6-20 from the field and he also had five turnovers. It’s never good for the starting guards to have a combined 10 turnovers.
For the first time in a while the Suns played tough, inspired basketball and it looked like they were having fun doing it. I will admit, after covering last night’s game against the Spurs I was not looking forward to watching this game at all. I expected another lackluster effort that would result in a blowout. I was completely wrong and it was a heck of a game to watch. I would recommend that, if possible, Suns fans should go back and watch the game again. We hung with a top team and even though we lost it was entertaining and showed so much promise for what could be.
Which Suns Shone the Brightest?
1. T.J. Warren - I discussed Warren’s game above, but it’s important to talk about him again. He brings so much energy to this team and getting 40 minutes was exactly what he needed. Jeff Horancek needs to continue starting Warren. Even when he is not scoring, Warren is giving 100% effort on 50/50 balls and doing whatever he can to contribute to the team.
2. P.J. Tucker - Tucker had his best game of the season against his old college teammate at Texas, Kevin Durant. Tucker finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals. He also only had one turnover and finished the night +4. Going beyond the scoresheet, Tucker plays with so much emotion. It’s inspiring to watch him play because it is apparent that he genuinely loves what he is doing and takes great pride in his work. He’s had some off games lately, but when he’s on he’s truly fun to watch.
3. Tyson Chandler - Chandler started tonight and played a solid 30 minutes finishing with yet another double-double. He had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Things finally started to click as the spacing looked better tonight and Chandler was able to do his thing. Hornacek really needs to consider stinking with the starting lineup of Knight, Booker, Warren, Tucker, and Chandler. It worked better than a lot of other lineups that were used this season. Jon Leuer was out of this game with a left ankle sprain, but having him and Mirza Teletovic come off the bench would be tough for a lot of team’s second units to stop.
After this game, I am pumped to see what the Suns do next. They will continue on their road trip to face the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, January 2, 2016 at 3:00 pm MST. It will be shown on NBATV.
Happy New Year to everyone and go Suns!