Oklahoma City got Al Horford back at the perfect moment and took down the Suns, 102-97, behind Horford’s 21 points and 11 rebounds.
The Suns were able to pretty easily take advantage of Oklahoma City’s defense early on, and especially with the Thunder starting cold from the field, it wasn’t particularly close from the jump. OKC got down 10 early and they aren’t exactly built to come back.
Just like he did on Saturday, Chris Paul stepped on the floor with an aggressive mindset as a scorer, putting up five early points including this pretty and-1.
Whether it was the excitement of playing against a former team or just knowing he had a job to do with Devin Booker sidelined, Paul came out ready. In addition to CP3, we also saw Mikal Bridges stay out of foul trouble and make an impact right away.
A big Bridges dunk handed momentum to the Suns late in the first as they ultimately sprung a 32-17 lead.
Toward the end of the first and into the second, more lineups that aren’t used to playing together came in. E’Twaun Moore got his first run of the season without Booker or Cameron Payne in the lineup, and started a rocky 1-4 from the field. Add that in with the likes of Abdel Nader and Frank Kaminsky, who just rejoined the rotation this week, and the usual chemistry and movement we’ve come to know these Suns for was absent.
Spare a moment for this nice slam from Cameron Johnson, though, which stood out during those chaotic bench minutes.
Cameron Johnson can still dunk at his age. pic.twitter.com/zq7IaveVjt— Mike Vigil (@protectedpick) January 28, 2021
Oklahoma City cut the lead to 10 about midway through the second period, then down to six with about 4 minutes to go. Most of that happened with Paul and Ayton out of the game.
With Paul waiting on the sideline to check in, the Thunder tied the game. OKC got to the rim repeatedly, with Kaminsky showing no fight at all as a rim protector.
By the time halftime hit, OKC was up three after the Suns were unable to make up any ground. They scored just 10 points in the entire third quarter, and any time Paul was out of the game, the Suns couldn’t do anything.
In particular, Deandre Ayton disappeared, taking just four shots and making one in 15 minutes of action in the first half.
These are the really tough ones to watch after Saturday. He was relentless going at Jokic. Nothing under the basket. pic.twitter.com/6KWNRNdRrR— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) January 28, 2021
The Thunder opened the second half on a 8-2 run, forcing Monty Williams to call a quick-trigger timeout.
It hardly changed anything. OKC proceeded to build a 13-point lead that only popped when Jae Crowder finally hit a triple. Paul responded with a three of his own to cut it to 5.
Paul hit another just before checking out, then assisted on a Johnson three from the corner, and suddenly the Suns rediscovered their shooting mojo and regained the lead.
This game was, like most in basketball, one of runs, but it ultimately became a matter of who would score last, as neither team was really capable of locking down on defense for a long period of time. OKC closed the third on one such run and went into the final frame up two, 73-71.
From the first whistle of the fourth, Paul was a man on a mission. The point god was determined to get to the elbow for his signature midrange jumper, but balanced that shot with a solid diet of at-rim finishes and threes as well.
With about seven minutes to go, Paul hit a jumper to tie the game at 83.
Then a triple that put the Suns up 3 and forced an OKC timeout.
A few moments later, Luguentz Dort continued a breakout season with a huge three dropped right over the top of Paul’s hands. Dort knelt to watch his shot like he was some sort of Kawhi Leonard, and it went in, to give the Thunder a one-point lead.
Dort played admirable defense all night on Paul, scored 14 points and was 4-8 from deep. He’s not just a meme anymore.
With the Suns down one, Paul made a play with about 30 seconds left to pull from the left block for a short midrange jumper and missed. Ayton grabbed the rebound and put up a layup, but missed badly through contact and did not get a foul call.
After SGA was fouled to stop the clock and made both free throws, Paul air-balled a three.
SGA got fouled again and made both. Thunder by 5.
The Suns turned the ball over on an inbounds pass to close out the worst loss of the year.