The Suns and the Thunder must have had different game plans coming into tonight's game. Phoenix head coach Alvin Gentry made it very clear he was going to limit the starters tonight so he could take a longer look at some of the rookies and training camp invitees hoping to make the final roster. That's exactly what he did.
Scott Brooks initially stated he would limit the playing time of his starters as well. However, the 18K plus, sold out crowd in Tulsa who anxiously awaited their rare chance to catch a glimpse of the home team may have changed his mind.
Although the Thunder currently have 19 players on their roster, Brooks cut the rotation down to only 10 tonight. While James Harden, Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Perry Jones, and Daniel Orton were all legitimately injured, Scott Brooks still opted to DNP four other reserves in favor of playing the starters more minutes.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka all played 28 minutes a piece, including a long stretch of the 3rd quarter when the Thunder finally started to pull away against the Suns' back-ups.
Before that, it was a tightly contested game throughout the entire first half, despite the Suns starters playing between only 6-12 minutes a piece, save for Michael Beasley who played for 19.
As a whole, the Suns and Thunder both shot 49.4% from the field, while the Suns actually shot a higher percentage from three at 50% going 5-10, compared to the Thunder who shot 45%, but made 9-20.
The Suns started out allowing too many offensive rebounds which the Thunder capitalized on at the beginning. This eventually evened itself out throughout the duration of the game, but the Thunder still rebounded the ball a total of 41 times including 15 offensive rebounds, compared to 31 total and 11 offensive rebounds for the Suns.
Although it wasn't a huge disparity, the rebounds and additional three point baskets for the Thunder ended up being the difference in the game.
Goran Dragic played only seven minutes, all in the first quarter, and had a rough start to the game committing two quick turnovers and two personal fouls as well. He still managed to punch in five points on 2-3 shooting to go along with his one and only assist before exiting the game for good. Luis Scola was even more limited, playing only six minutes all in the first quarter as well. Scola barely made the box score with his one rebound and two personal fouls before being replaced halfway through the first quarter, never to return.
Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat got a little more burn tonight each registering 12 minutes, one full quarter of play in the first. Gortat was effective scoring seven points on 3-3 shooting and going 1-2 from the line, and grabbing three rebounds during his time. Dudley however failed to make much of a mark scoring only two points on 1-3 shooting.
So what about Michael Beasley? Well, even though he was the only Sun's starter to see time in both the first and third quarters, he was only marginally effective scoring six points on 2-7 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the line. He did however manage two assists and two blocked shots as well, so he still helped out in other ways during his 19 minutes of playing time.
With a grand total of only 20 points from the Suns starting five who had been playing so well together, one might expect that the Suns would get blown out against the talented three-headed monster of Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka who all played substantial minutes tonight. But instead, the Suns bench stepped up tonight and kept the game close throughout most of the first half and in the start of the third quarter, even when playing against the Thunder superstars.
Led by the hot shooting of Wesley Johnson who scored 15 points on 6-13 shooting including 3-5 from three in his 28 minutes of play, many of the other reserves also stepped up and made it a close game. PJ Tucker continued to impress with 11 points and five rebounds in nearly 29 minutes. Even Luke Zeller had a fairly productive night registering eight points and four rebounds in less than 25 minutes on the floor.
Solomon Jones played his way to a double-double by registering 10 points and 10 rebounds along with two steals and one block in 17.5 minutes. Markieff Morris had a mediocre game from a scoring standpoint with only five points, but he also contributed three rebounds and three assists in his 17 minutes of play. And Dionte Garrett appeared to be the most impressive point guard of the night with his seven points and five assists in just over 15 minutes.
Ike Diogu also pitched in nine points and three rebounds in less than 10 minutes. Sebastian Telfair scored a quick seven points in just over nine minutes, and Jermaine O'Neal pitched in five points and one rebound in his eight minutes of action.
The only Suns' reserve who didn't appear to have at least a decent night was Kendall Marshall who played 24 minutes yet scored zero points, dished out only three assists, and committed two turnovers. However, he did grab five rebounds and stole the ball three times as well...so even he found a way to contribute.
The Bottom Line:
With a Suns team who's starting five had played so well thus far in the preseason, and a bench who had failed to impress, this was actually just what Alvin Gentry and the rest of the coaching staff was looking for.
It's clear that Gentry's game-plan wasn't to try to win this game as much as it was to audition the backups and get a better feel for who should see minutes, and who deserves to be on the roster.
Save for Marshall, who is a lock to make the team regardless, nearly all of the reserves and pre-season invitees rose to the challenge tonight.
With only three more preseason games remaining before the season opener on Halloween night, Gentry and company are going to have some tough decisions to make here shortly when the roster will have to be cut down from 17 to at most 15...meaning at least two of these players will have to be cut.
The Suns will certainly need to further evaluate these players over these next three games, but having too many talented players is a nice problem to have.