The Suns looked like they had this game won after the third quarter: they were up seven points, and Vince Carter had scored forty bazillion from downtown. Not an auspicious moment for Oklahoma City, but the Thunder have been there before, and tonight they knew how to get out of it. Carter was shut down — he got only one bucket in the last twelve minutes — and the momentum gradually shifted. Down goes Phoenix, 111-107, and off go the Thunder to Salt Lake City.
Then again, even with that fourth-quarter drought, Carter finished with 33 points, leading all scorers. All five starting Suns, plus bench big Marcin Gortat, managed double figures, but it was Vince’s show tonight: 11 of 21, including 6 of 12 treys, and half a dozen rebounds besides. But Phoenix, after hitting seemingly everything early on, couldn’t sustain that pace, and wound up shooting just under 46 percent. Worse, they left seven points at the charity stripe, and in a late dustup, both Steve Nash and Grant Hill were T’d up. (Which turned out not to matter, since Kevin Durant, awarded four foul shots for the play and the ensuing technicals, hit only two.)
I am becoming persuaded that the deciding factor these days is whether Jeff Green is on his game. Tonight, Uncle Jeff was definitely on: 28 points, even more than Durant (24, 11 boards), more than Russell Westbrook (19, 11 dimes). The Thunder outrebounded the Suns, 45-38, and dished up more assists, 25-19. But the guys to see were Serge Ibaka, who hit 9 of 10 from the floor and hauled in six rebounds, and Nick Collison, whose seemingly meager three points might distract you from his position as Glue Guy. (On the plus-minus scale, Collison was +25, far and away the best on the floor.) Thabo Sefolosha was back, but he was apparently not entirely healed, and he played only eleven minutes.
The Thunder will be back home at the Eventual Thaw Coliseum on Tuesday, to take on the Grizzlies. In the meantime, though, there’s that trip to Utah. The Jazz won’t be any better rested — they’re at Denver tonight — but they’ll be at home.