“The defense is back,” said Scott Brooks after the Denver game. Some of us might have been wondering what he meant, especially since high-velocity Phoenix rolled up 31 points in the first quarter. But Brooks never kids about such things, and in fact, the Suns managed only 34 points in the entire second half, as the Thunder, despite shooting less than 40 percent for the night, rang up a 96-91 win, taking the season series 2-1.
Things did not look so promising early on. Nenad Krstić sat out — bruised knee — and Nick Collison, getting the start, rolled up three fouls in four minutes. The call went out to Air Congo, and Serge Ibaka got to play 24 minutes, in which he scored 15 and swept the backboard nine times. Thabo Sefolosha had 15 points, and Jeff Green had, um, 15 points. Russell Westbrook played ball handler more than sharpshooter — eight points, eight rebounds, 10 assists — and appearing in the role of Kevin Durant was Kevin Durant, who knocked down an almost-usual 35.
The Suns won the battle of the boards, 46-39, and shot 45 percent. What they didn’t do was cash in the freebies (they missed seven of 23 free throws) and hang on to the leather (they turned the ball over 20 times). Still, Amar’e Stoudemire was at least somewhat unstoppable, scoring 17 in the first half but only seven in the second, and pulling down 15 boards; Steve Nash dished up 12 dimes to go with his 11 points.
Oklahoma City now finds itself 49-30. Three games remain: at Golden State Sunday, at Portland Monday, and the finale at the Ford against Memphis on Wednesday. The Grizzlies were kind enough to beat the Spurs tonight, dropping San Antonio into 8th place; where the Blazers end up depends on how they do against the Mavericks at the Rose Garden tonight. For the next hour or two, I’m rooting for Dallas.
Update: Mavs 83, Blazers 77. Nowitzki went up for 40. Bless you, Dirk. So we’re in sixth, one game above Portland.