Nobody wins a basketball game by swapping baskets with the opponents: you have to put together strings of unanswered buckets. This is how the Thunder was leading the Suns after the first quarter, 32-13; they took a 24-point lead into the locker room, and maintained it for about seven minutes in the third. Then Phoenix struck back, outscoring OKC 35-22 in the quarter; early in the fourth, they’d pulled to within seven before the Thunder remembered how to score points. It wasn’t instantaneous, exactly, but within five minutes they’d reestablished a 20-point lead. At the end, it was a 17-point spread, 118-101, and the Suns go home empty-handed. (Though they’ll get another shot at OKC this weekend, in their own house.)
Still no Westbrook. But OKC is learning not to be utterly dependent on Mister Whynot; they actually did not embarrass themselves from the 3-point line (13-27, 48 percent) or from the charity stripe (19-20, 95 percent). The Suns were a little more efficient from the floor, but they got twelve fewer shots. That said, their sharpshooters were pretty sharp: T. J. Warren clocked 21 points, and Devin Booker 19, while Mikal Bridges and Jamal Crawford each tapped in 13 from the bench. (Crawford’s 38 years old; he’ll probably be good for 13 points when he’s 48.)
Paul George paced (sorry) the Thunder with 28; Dennis Schröder tacked on 20, and Steven Adams managed 18. This should be enough to deal with the Knicks on Wednesday; but then it’s back on the road, and if they can get past the Suns in Phoenix, they still have to deal with Sacramento and Golden State, both of which beat OKC the first time around this season.