The Woodward News

March 8, 2012

Thunder rallies past Phoenix

Woodward News

— By Michael Kinney

CNHI News Service

OKLAHOMA CITY — Scott Brook likes to see his team get emotional. While other coaches want their players to stay at an even keel, he knows when Oklahoma City gets its temperature raised, it finds ways to win games.

That was on display in the second half Wednesday when the Thunder hosted Phoenix. Trailing by 16 points, they caught fire and stormed back to win 115-104 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“I  think we play better when we play with emotion on the defensive end,” Brooks said. “I like the fact that they did that. They leave everything on the floor. It’s not always to perfection, but they try.”

Despite the Suns (17-21) struggling the entire year to even approach .500, it took a spectacular scoring night from Oklahoma City’s big three and the lunch pail effort of Serge Ibaka to claim the team’s 14th straight home victory.

Ibaka tallied 18 points and 20  rebounds. He was one basket short of his first 20-20 night.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant and James Harden combined for 91 points for the Thunder (31-8). They are the first teammates this year to each score 30 points or more.

But Durant was more impressed with how the team responded defensively in the last 15 minutes of action.

“It was big,” Durant said. “They came out and jumped on us. They was up 16 with a couple of minutes left in the third and we just kind of pumped up a little bit on the defense end. It was a big win for us.”

The Suns’ Marcin Gortat scored 18 of his team-high 28 points in the first half as Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison were unable to slow him down.

Harden came off the bench and knocked down two 3-pointers and threw down a two-handed dunk on Shannon Brown to get his night started. Yet, Oklahoma City trailed 64-58 at halftime.

The third quarter turned into a lot of one-on-one ball for the Thunder. Westbrook and Durant each tried to take it upon themselves to bring the team back seemingly single-handily. But that just dug the hole even deeper for the Thunder. They found themselves down 84-68 with four minutes left in the period.

Westbrook picked up technical foul and had to be held back from trying to get at the official.

Brooks said he considered taking his all-star point guard out of the game, but he decided against it. It may have been his best move of the night.

Westbrook’s technical seemed to spark himself and the Thunder on both ends of the court. He led them on a 17-6 run to close out the third quarter and cut the Suns lead down to 88-84.

“It was a great performance,” Brooks said. “Our crowd got into the game also. When we were down 12 or 14 at that three-minute mark and all we wanted to do was cut it to eight or nine, and I think we cut it to four at the quarter.”

It wasn’t Oklahoma City’s offense that got them back into the game. It was their defense that finally decided to make an appearance. After two and a half quarters of allowing the Suns to run at will, the Thunder made a stand.

Durant’s running jumper with 9:08 left in the fourth gave the Thunder their first lead since 2-0. They were off and running on every missed shot and turnover. Phoenix couldn’t keep up.

The Thunder rode the emotional wave the rest of the period and finished off the comeback by holding the Suns to only three made shots in the quarter.

“We dug ourselves out of a hole and we did a great job of fighting back defensively in the second half,” Westbrook said. “We did a better job on that in the last couple of games.”