Game Notes: Suns at Thunder
Starring Alvin Gentry and Benjamin Button.
by Todd Spehr
- Suns coach Alvin Gentry is bubbly. No other real way to describe him. He meets with the media roughly 75 minutes before the tip in the hallway outside the Phoenix locker room and is jovial. He looks like he enjoys the banter with the media, the back and forth, and even lags around the hallway after the session to chew the fat with leftover writers.
- Gentry is informed by a writer that Thunder coach Scott Brooks, just minutes earlier, had talked about Oklahoma City’s ability to win in Boston earlier in the season even though they were missing Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. The reason Brooks was talking about that was simple: Phoenix is shorthanded tonight, and should still be feared. When Gentry heard this he roared with laughter, and then asked one of the writers to run down the hallway and ask Brooks if he would mind sitting out KD and Green tonight.
- When asked if yesterday’s trade makes Phoenix more versatile, Gentry says he doesn’t know yet. What he does know is that the two areas where the Suns are getting killed (defensively and rebounding) are upgraded.
- One noticeable trend among visiting coaches to Oklahoma City is the respect Russell Westbrook commands. Last season it was the usual input when talking about OKC: These kids play hard, Durant is the real deal, what a heck of a future these guys have. This season, Durant still commands hyperbole but it’s not far-fetched to view Westbrook as 1A. Gentry lauds Westbrook, saying he’s “as good as anyone” at his position thus far this year.
- There are six Suns players warming up on the court at once, and another sitting on the sideline watching. Is there anyone even in the locker room? No one knows; it’s closed pre-game.
- Essentially, Phoenix is without Jason Richardson tonight. Hedo Turkoglu was slowly falling out of the rotation, and Earl Clark played little, so a large portion of the core was still available. Still, the Suns have an “Us against Them” vibe.
- No sign of Steve Nash warming up, although Gentry insists he’ll “find a way to play.” We sincerely hope so.
- Former Bulls center Bill Cartwright is a Suns assistant, and former Bulls forward Scott Williams is a Suns TV analyst, and both are here tonight. Williams, in dress slacks and a button-up shirt, is launching 3s from the corner. If you ever saw him play, you can presume how this played out.
- Nash gets a warm applause when introduced. Nash is, for lack of a better word, adored (admired?) for, in my estimation, two major reasons, none of which make a great deal of sense. Firstly, he’s something of a common man, at least in stature but hardly in ability or motivation. People love a common man who does uncommon things. Secondly, perhaps his on-court team “failures” (once again, there’s tough word choice here) have allowed Nash to become this sympathetic figure, an easy guy to root for, one you want to catch a break; not unlike Jerry West pre-1972, when West had had his heart broken in all kinds of ways (mostly by Boston), to the point where they held a celebration night for him and even opponents professed their love for him. Anyway, Nash is loved.
- Oklahoma City’s uniqueness as an NBA city is well-documented by the national scribes; it’s now seen as some sort of Pleasantville. But it goes both ways. Scott Brooks chats with fans sitting by the bench. Thabo Sefolosha waves to fans at the scorer’s table as he gets a ball off the ball-rack. Durant and Green both acknowledge the crowd before the tip in a familiar way.
- Grant Hill starts the game on Durant. Friday, he guarded Dirk Nowitzki. Tomorrow, he’ll guard Manu Ginobili. On Thursday, it will be LeBron James. Gentry insists Hill is an All-Star this season. Seriously, he does.
- The crowd won’t sit until the Thunder scores. Two minutes and six seconds go by, Durant scores, and the crowd exhales –- can we sit now?
- Nash, like Jason Kidd, is a player who plays based on possibilities. Everywhere he looks, he sees an angle, trying to find a pocket. He dishes 3 assists in the opening minutes and Phoenix jumps out 13-4.
- What can dampen the seemingly happy-go-lucky Gentry? A Durant rake foul on a three-pointer, that’s what.
- Speaking of Gentry, he’s got running dialogue with lead official Marc Davis. Gentry screams in Davis’ face, Davis sidesteps, hears something, then zings Suns assistant Dan Majerle for a technical. This all happens in about eight seconds. The language is colorful, and a fan yells out, “Hey! There’s kids here!” to no avail.
- End of first quarter: Suns 25 Thunder 23. Durant has 9, but it’s a messy 9, he’s not shooting well. Nash has 4 points and 5 assists, while Hill has 6.
- A fan banks in a half-court shot (apparently the second time this has happened this week) and collects a cool $20,000. We later find out he’s from Kansas, and he’s an expecting father. Nice. There’s a buzz in the arena for about two minutes after this happens.
- One really enjoyable thing about covering games up close is watching veterans play. Why? Watching them pick their spots is some type of art form. A few weeks back, watching Jason Kidd pass the ball was a delight. Tonight, it’s Grant Hill. He’s finding his spots, hitting his mid-range, posting smaller players, all without the slightest hint of forcing. He’s in double-figures early in the second.
- The Suns are using band-aids everywhere: Nash and Dragic are sharing the floor together (which hardly ever happens), the rotations are suddenly warped (Hakim Warrick and Earl Barron man the middle), and they’re employing a zone defense.
- Westbrook and Robin Lopez fight for the loose ball, which goes out of bounds clearly off Lopez. A referee hesitates with the call, Westbrook shoots him a look, and another referee comes in to correct it. Westbrook to the ref: “That was your bad.” He’s right.
- James Harden is playing terrific tonight; he’s attacking the basket, getting to the line, and not settling, all very good signs.
- Half: Suns 54 Thunder 45. Durant and Westbrook are a combined 3-18 from the field (OKC is shooting 27% overall – how about that Suns defense!), while Hill has 14, Nash with 6 and 6 assists, and Lopez, apparently he of the lethal middle distance shot, has 11.