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Thunder rookies set history in 140-103 blundering to Suns

With Oklahoma City still arms full with injuries, the Thunder fell to the lopsided score of 140-103 against the Phoenix Suns Friday. Oklahoma City maintained their 13th seed with the loss staying a game back of the 21-27 Pelicans with a 20-28 record. Phoenix maintained their second spot in the league with Friday’s win, currently resting at 34-14 on the season.

The first quarter shined light as to why the Suns are one of the league’s top dogs, while the Thunder has struggled thus far. Phoenix started the game scorching hot from the field converting 5-of-6 shots in the first two minutes with Chris Paul accounting on 4-of-5 makes. The Suns managed to claim a 17-5 lead four minutes in preventing the Thunder any means of navigation, clogging up the paint for two blocks and a 1-of-8 start. The Suns’ heatwave beamed until the midway point of the period, sparking 19 unanswered points to the tune of a 24-5 lead. Oklahoma City capped their twelve minutes in double-digits, but at the horn they trailed by thirty — 43-13. Phoenix continuous ball-movement trembled the Thunder, dousing them with 9 assists, and easy looks for 60 percent shooting (15-of-25.) Oklahoma City on the flipside struggled to amount anything. The unit shot a palty 4-of-25 (16%) in the first twelve, falling into their opponents hands after failing to hit from deep hitting just 1-of-8 tries. 

Oklahoma City got a sweet touch to begin the second with two early triples, but Phoenix couldn’t miss anything. This testament held true three minutes in as Dario Saric was met double-teamed under the basket chucking up a desperation moonshot — swish. The Thunder found newfound success from three, banging home their first 7-of-9 triples in the period off of rec-league defense. Aleksej Pokusevski put the exclamation mark on this streak taking Mikal Bridges off the dribble, dishing a mid-air pass after jumpstarting a reverse layup, finding Theo Maledon at the right wing for a triple. Oklahoma City dwindled their deficit to 20 off a 10-1 run, however a Jae Crowder and-one hoisted Phoenix up 73-50.

The Thunder pulled a complete 180, triggering 27-of-37 second quarter points from beyond the arch (9-of-13 FG.) Unlike the first, the Suns’ defensive emphasis inside left a burn, as had they not shot a witty __% themselves — this game could’ve been blown wide open. 

Aleksej Pokusevski and Theo Maledon combined for 30 points by half, tallying 14 and 18 points respectively. The tandem connected on 7-of-9 threes while tacking on 4 assists.

The Pokusevski-Maledon show continued in the third in major fashion. The pairing posted the squad’s first 8-of-14 points using a flurry of Moses Brown high-ball screens to initiate the offense. Theo Maledon flared up taking Suns guards one-on-one all period long, setting a new career-high of 26 points at the 5 minute, 3 second mark into the frame — entering the fourth with 30. Even with Theo’s outpour of baskets, the Suns kept their distance up 103-76.

Phoenix did their part in shutting Oklahoma City off from the victory, however Justin Jackson lit the Suns’ frontcourt up en route to 15 fourth quarter points.

Phoenix ended the night on an exquisite sixty-percent shooting (54-90 FG) throughout the game, assisting on more field goals (36) than the Thunder made (35) all night.

Devin Booker led the Suns’ efforts with 32 points (11-of-20 FG) while former Thunder Chris Paul racked up 17 points (8-of-8 FG) and 12 assists Friday.

“They were the readier team to play. It took us a long time in the game to kind of match that and once we did, we ran offense sharper. We cut harder. We made sharper passes. Our timing was better… but obviously it took us too long tonight,” said Daigneault.

Despite the Thunder’s major loss, it left the door open for yet another record breaking performance — this time coming from their rookie duo.

Theo Maledon elapsed his career-high midway into the third, and by the night’s end, the 19-year-old finished with 33 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 5-of-7 from deep, and 8-of-10 from the line. Maledon’s 33 pinned himself in a grouping with Russell Westbrook as the only rookies to post 30-plus points as a rookie. Westbrook reached the 30-mark five times over his rookie season, with his best output reaching 34.

Head Coach Mark Daigneault expressed his pride in the rookie postgame, “Theo got it going. He controlled the game. Even when he had 28 or 30, he was still making the right play.”

Right behind Theo in Friday’s matchup rested Aleksej Pokusevski. Poku fed right into the game’s energy finishing the night with 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but even crazier — a 4-of-6 barrage from three. The 19-year-old showed no nerves faced with Phoenix’s fours, instead staying locked onto the basket for the entirely of the game pulling when there creaked any daylight.

Maledon and Pokusevski’s efforts didn’t just remain in Oklahoma City’s archive — but the league’s. Their efforts marked the first time in NBA history two teammates under 20 reached the 20-point mark in the same game.

“These last few games you can tell those guys [Theo and Aleksej] are getting way more comfortable. The game is starting to slow down for them. They look like two promising rookies,” said Kenrich Williams.

Oklahoma City will travel 1332 miles in the next 24 hours, matching up in Portland to face the Trail Blazers, completing their road-stand back-to-back.

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