By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript
OKLAHOMA CITY — When Phoenix looks at the way Oklahoma City is built, it sees a team with an abundance of riches. With players such as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder never have to worry about trying to manufacture buckets late in games.
The Suns are not able to say the same thing. In their 114-96 loss to the Thunder Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, they couldn’t find a go-to player to counter the duo of Westbrook and Durant when they needed it the most.
“It’s a combination of we can’t get stops and we can’t score,” Phoenix’s Jared Dudley said. “They know exactly how they want to score, which plays they are going to run. We are still searching. In crunch time, they have two go-to guys, we are still trying to find one.”
Oklahoma City (24-6) enters the New Year with the second best start in franchises history. Only the 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics had a better record after 30 games.
“It was a great year for us as an organization and as a team,” Westbrook said. “I’m proud to be part of this team with the group of guys that we have leading us into 2013. I’m looking forward to some good things.”
Despite having to get stitches at halftime after getting struck by a inadvertent elbow, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook finished with 24 points, seven rebounds and nine assists.
The Suns kept the game close for three quarters behind the strong play of Jermaine O’Neal and Luis Scola. However, the Thunder exploded in the fourth quarter with Westbrook and Kevin Durant scoring at will.
Oklahoma City outscored Phoenix 30-18 in the final period as the Suns lost their sixth straight game.
“I thought it was a good team win,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “A lot of guys did a lot of good things offensively. We were able to score the b all and take care of the basketball and we only had five turnovers.”
Durant ended the night with 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting. Serge Ibaka added 16 points and seven rebounds for Oklahoma City, Thabo Sefolosha scored 14 points, and Nick Collison came off the bench to contribute 10 points and nine rebounds.
“Well Nick does so many great things for us,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I say it time and time again. He’s a glue guy. He just does all the little things that are important to winning basketball games. He makes a ton of winning basketball plays.”
Scola paced the Suns (11-21) with 24 points, and Goran Dragic chipped in with 16 points and eight assists. Marcin Gortat posted 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Dudley was held to seven points on 2-of-7 shooting.
The Suns’ P.J. Tucker began the night crowding Durant every time the Thunder star got the ball. Tucker forced the three-time scoring champion to try to beat him off the dribble rather than giving up uncontested jump shots.
When Durant didn’t get the foul calls, he showed his frustration and sometimes didn’t get back on defense because he was complaining to the refs. Despite that, Oklahoma City led 32-28 after the first quarter.
O’Neal helped keep the Suns in the game in the second quarter. The 16-year veteran had eight points, four rebounds and a blocked shot in the period.
The Thunder held a 54-53 halftime lead.
Oklahoma City got a scare late in the half when Scola came down for a rebound and his elbow crashed into Westbrook’s face. No foul was called, but blood gushed from a cut around Westbrook’s eye. Westbrook had to be taken into the locker room, and he didn’t return the rest of the first half.
With Westbrook on the bench, Oklahoma City went on a 12-0 run to start the third quarter. It was punctuated by a Thabo Sefolosha fastbreak dunk that forced Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry to call a timeout.
“It’s just all about stops,” the Thunder’s Kevin Martin said. “We know we’re going to score. Tonight was just about stops. Once we got our stops and rebounded and got in our transition game we were pretty tough to stop.”
Michael KinneyFollow me @firstname.lastname@example.org
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