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Thunder bounce back versus Suns, narrowly fall from the prize 123-120

Coming off a historic 152-95 loss, Oklahoma City entered Sunday’s back-to-back capper versus Phoenix gripping for any bit of success. To charge the Thunder’s outlet, Lu Dort and Aleksej Pokusevski both returned from their one-game absences for the night — but it still was not enough, narrowly falling 123-120. Oklahoma City slipped back down into the fifth-best odds in their third-straight loss as with a 21-44 record, they now await the 21-43 Cavaliers to update their standings status. Phoenix improved to 46-18 in the win as they now stand tied for the league-best record — sharing the honors with the Utah Jazz. 

Oklahoma City took their first lead since Thursday in striking the scoreboard first, and they kept at it, keeping adamant at the basket for a 9-4 start. In the Thunder’s quick-fire run Lu Dort capped the nine points with a 26-foot jumper, the sophomore took that momentum and ran with it to start a streak of the sophomore scoring 8 of the team’s next 11 points. Oklahoma City’s 8-of-11 start (1-of-11 start Saturday) posted them on the high side 19-13 through five, but as Devin Booker ticked the stove on high, the game was knotted in a minute. Sides exchanged two lead changes and two ties in the backend of the frame but it was the Thunder who reigned supreme after twelve up 33-27. Devin Booker filled out a solid 12-point quarter (5-of-10 FG) for the Suns but it was the even coating of the Thunder offense that tipped the scales. Eight of ten players for Oklahoma City logged points in the frame and with 56-percent shooting and a 5-of-9 (55.6%) from the outside, they put Saturday’s misfortunes in the past.

The Thunder’s luck success ran dry to start the start of the second as the Suns hit four threes unanswered to open the frame as they pulled out a 12-0 run to take a six-point lead, and force Mark Daigneault into a timeout. Phoenix’s lead stood until the seven-minute mark when the Thunder stole the lead following a 13-1 run that featured a 32-foot Ty Jerome triple and an and-1 layup from Gabriel Deck as he worked in the post. Ultimately, the Suns burned off the half’s final run blazing out a 22-10 run as they led up 64-57 at the horn.

 In a seesaw half that saw Oklahoma City as large as eight and Phoenix ending the half with their largest lead at seven, the advantage rested in who caught fire last. The Thunder and Suns shot well from the floor going 47 and 57-percent respectively while hitting 47-percent (7-of-15) and 53-percent (8-of-15) of triples. Devin Booker took the lead role with 16 first-half points while Torrey Craig became a viable option hitting 6-of-7 tries for 13 points. Oklahoma City didn’t have any set stars but with sophomores, Lu Dort and Darius Bazley nailing 10 apiece with Ty Jerome clinching six — they had a selection of scorers. 

Upon the opening of the third, Aleksej Pokusevski was ruled out for the contest’s remainder as his knee contusion flared back up. The Suns took hold of the Thunder’s makeshift opening lineup as they took a quick ten-point lead to start the second half though, after a series of energizer plays, highlighted by a Moses Brown posterizer stuff, the Thunder drew back into four. Phoenix ignited an 11-5 run through Booker, Paul, and Craig to reclaim a double-digit lead and they didn’t turn back. In the closing minutes, the Suns harvested a lead stretching to 17 before Dario Saric sank two free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining to cherish a 98-85 lead. Devin Booker almost overpowered his halftime total numbering 14 points in the frame to pile up 30 points with twelve to go.  

Oklahoma City seemed out of the picture for the fourth being out by double-digits for the first ten minutes, but after an Isaiah Roby dunk — the Thunder were down eight at the two-minute warning. Oklahoma City’s deficit dwindled as another Isaiah Roby dunk forced a DeAndre Ayton foul, and a hole sliced to five. With under a minute to go, all the Suns needed was one more statement to put the game out of reach, and after a Devin Booker shot called for a whistle — the game seemed over. In what can only be described as a shock, the officials ruled Booker pushed off into his shot turning this ball the other way, Booker wasn’t having it. After Booker berated the officials he tacked on a tech and in turn stemmed a Theo Maledon free-throw — swish. In an opportunity to cut the game to one possession, Isaiah Roby missed a 24-foot three; however, with a Chris Paul travel, hope was still alive. On the returning play Lu Dort caught his man airborne from the top of the key, after sneaking into Chris Paul’s repertoire, Dort bumped into his man and drew three free throws — 16 seconds remaining. Suns Head Coach Monty Williams showed displeasure with the ruling and challenged the call — it was ruled successful. Off a jump ball won by Ayton, Devin Booker was trapped, slid on his knees a few feet, and even touched the sideline before delivering a pass, and no whistles were blown. Off this evident no call the Thunder on and off the floor were infuriated, and with Mikal Bridges playing keep-away, the Suns burned ten seconds off the clock before he got to the line, bang bang. Even with a Maledon three (hit with 0.1 seconds remaining), this game was over.

“He [Booker] definitely stepped out. I mean I blitzed those guys [the refs.] I wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t step out. It was a tough play for them because they came out of a jump ball. I don’t think anybody had eyes on it obviously, but that was a tough one. I was pissed,” said Mark Daigneault after the game.

Daigneault made sure to show his support for the Thunder players for their valiant efforts. “Tonight was just a zero-and-zero challenge. Nothing that I could’ve said after the game [yesterday’s blowout] or today when we walked in could’ve made anybody feel any worse after that one. So, it was really just about trying to reset the group. It took tremendous maturity out of a lot of really young players to really taste our own blood last night and then come out and compete on a back-to-back after a game like last night against one of the best teams in the league,” said Daigneault. “It was impressive.”

Phoenix’s 53-percent outing added with a 12-of-31 (38.7%) sampling from distance paved the way for a victory — but the line sealed the deal. The Suns shot a flavorful 21-of-27 (77.8%) from the line using a plethora of controversial calls to line up at the charity stripe. Devin Booker was the main recipient of this pleasantry as the guard hit 9-of-10 free throws en route to a 32-point (11-of-22 FG) game. Chris Paul sent out 18 points (7-of-13 FG) and 11 assists in his return to the ‘Peake while deadline addition Torrey Craig rang in 18 points (8-of-10 FG) and 10 rebounds for a double-double himself. 

Oklahoma City logged seven men in double figures Sunday as the unit drained 49-percent of shots and went a red-hot 13-of-30 from downtown (13-of-30 FG.) The Thunder’s group effort ran far into the fine print as they outrebounded the Suns 53-to-46 on the glass while snagging down multiple four-chance plays to charge 17 offensive rebounds. Even better, the Thunder’s turnover bug was stomped in this game as they posted a mere 15 turnovers while dropping in 23 assists.

Darius Bazley racked up a team-high 19 points (8-of-13 FG) and 9 rebounds in the game, using a seven-point fourth quarter to bolster the team’s chances. Theo Maledon set on the doorstep of snapping a Thunder three-point rookie record for the greater portion of the night until two late-game triples sent the 19-year-old into the record books, ousting Alex Abrines’ 94 made triples with 96 with seven games to go. Maledon used his three triples to enable the interior in which the Frenchman drew fouls inside for a 5-of-5 trip to the line, an 18-point game, and 4 assists. Ty Jerome and Kenrich Williams both struck 15 points on respective 5-of-10 and 6-of-11 clips. Jerome made his former team pay Sunday rifling down three triples with limitless range, drilling two 30+ foot jumpers. Jerome’s perimeter clinic opened the seams for play inside, in which the sophomore sent in a team-high 5 assists. Williams took his 30-minute role with pride playing the entire night with heart-filled basketball helped to drive Oklahoma City back into the night. Williams found himself in almost every pivotal play down the stretch, even including the Devin Booker miscall which would have given Oklahoma City a shot to knock a one-possession game. Isaiah Roby and Lu Dort capped their back-to-back set with 11 and 10 points as Roby went a solid 3-of-6 from the floor, but Dort couldn’t find any rhythm past his early run — ending the game on 4-of-19 shooting. 

Gabriel Deck upped the ante again Sunday marking his first career double-digit game with 11 points to spruce up his 6 rebounds and 3 assists. As outlined by Ty Jerome postgame, Deck doesn’t have a firm grasp on the English language — but he does in the universal one — basketball. Deck seemed cool as a cucumber filling in with a roster putting himself in ideal spacing situations with little callouts to guide him. With the ball, Deck thoroughly examined the floor each and every drive down taking his opportunities to work in the isolation all full-force. The forward showed some prowess around the basket showing off a spin-layup, a post-and-one, and a sprawled out, sidearmed, underhanded layup to post points. 

“His ability to come in, fit in very well, be aggressive, not force it, take good shots [has been impressive.] If you watched him play you’d think he’s been with us all year,” said Ty Jerome.

Next up, the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-44) will take Monday off before flying into Sacramento to face the 27-37 Sacramento Kings.  

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