Game Notes: Suns at Thunder
Starring Alvin Gentry and Benjamin Button.
- Robin Lopez is possibly superstitious, I have no idea. But every time he walks past the scorer’s table, whether it be at the start of the quarter or out of a time-out, he walks up to it and taps it twice. He’s all very deliberate as he does this. How do I even know this? He does it right in front of me, every time, on time.
- Hill is hitting everything. It’s as if he has a “horsepower” Pistons jersey circa ’97 strapped to his chest. He’s got a tremendous rhythm, and has 20 points less than five minutes into the third. A scout sitting courtside, who perhaps shouldn’t care but apparently does, yells “This is awesome” after Hill hits. It really is.
- Nash is working the left side of the floor in the third, and penetrates baseline before whipping a pass around his back to a streaking Lopez for the layup. Couldn’t tell you how many guys in the League could make that pass, but you could count them on one hand.
- A double-digit Suns lead is suddenly down to 6, as Jeff Green is hot from the outside. The crowd, as always, is riding right along.
- With the noise rising, Nash hits a 3. Then, with his body squarely facing the baseline he shoots a floater across his body that hits all net. A writer courtside just laughs when he sees this shot.
- The Thunder are still coming. Westbrook pulls a microcosm of the great young player –- as both erratic and brilliant — in the span of 30 seconds. He misses a fast break dunk, then on the next possession hits a tough floater and his fouled. The crowd is certifiably crazy now.
- Durant catches an oop on the break and the place is about to fall over. Thunder now up one, and suddenly have six players in double figures after no one (sans Harden) showed up in the first half. The Suns have coughed the ball up seven times in the quarter, which never helps.
- Small side note: Durant is just 4-14 from the field, and everything is short. It’s as if he has no legs tonight.
- End of third: Thunder 85 Suns 82. Oklahoma City ripped off 40 points that quarter, and Durant leads six in double-figures. Hill has 20 and Nash 16 (on 7 shots) for Phoenix.
- Hill hits another mid-range shot, and Gentry, who has a long history and a lot of admiration for Hill, turns to the fans sitting on the floor and says “It’s pretty, isn’t it?” before just laughing.
- Goran Dragic has been solid all night. He’s come so far from being the scared, timid kid under Terry Porter to the super-confident player under Gentry. Gentry talks to him almost like a son, there’s constant dialect and reinforcement, and Dragic has a nice future.
- Nick Collison is a real difference maker. He’s hiding in the short corner tonight and living off dribble penetration. He does a bit of everything: Rolls hard off the pick, sets endless screens, takes charges, and tonight, he’s scoring.
- The Suns are making no secret of the fact that they’re targeting Westbrook. They are forcing switches on almost every possession, and when not doing that, they’re making him guard the screen and roll. First Hill. Then Dragic. Nash. Then, finally, Channing Frye is posting him up.
- Durant and Hill are being very physical on OKC’s offensive end.>
- The Suns break ahead 104-100 after Nash returns. Twice he gets a running start in the pick and roll and when you let his instinct take over it’s murder; he hits Frye for a 3 then finds Childress for a layup.
- Childress, as of yesterday out of the rotation, is suddenly asked to do huge things. On a late Thunder possession, with the pressure mounting and the crowd loud, he picks Durant’s pocket on an isolation. It’s the game’s biggest play. Two possessions later he knocks the ball out of Durant’s hands as KD rises up for the 3. Childress and Dragic are tonight’s quiet heroes.
- Channing Frye dunks to put Phoenix up 106-100. Channing Frye dunks.
- Dragic intentionally fouls Westbrook at mid-court, and Westbrook, sensing this, attempts a shot. There’s no way a referee will call a three-shot foul, but geez, that was close.
- With a 113-110 lead, Frye misses a free throw. Green finds himself at mid-court with a clean look, which hits the front of the rim. Should’ve got the expecting father from Kansas to take that shot.
- Final: Suns 113 Thunder 110. Hill hits 30 and Nash adds 20 and 10 assists. Durant gets 28 on 19 shots, while Westbrook, Green and Collison all added 19.
- Less than 10 minutes after the final buzzer, Gentry is standing in the hallway, already dressed in sweats, his back pinned to the wall, smiling widely. His boy –- or, as his daughter has dubbed “Benjamin Button” –- Grant Hill was the story of the night. He swears Hill is an All-Star, and outlines all he does for this team, which is plenty.
- Inside the locker room, Hill is sitting in the corner. Both knees are wrapped with ice, both feet are in ice, he looks weary but is also sporting a wide smile. He is, of course, humble but you can tell there’s a quiet pleasure in this. He’s got a real “Bernard King in 1991” thing about him now: We all expected this to be it, that there was no way he could be here after the injuries and the time, but he has found a new level. After tonight, there’s no question.