EMPIRE OF THE SUNS

Suns outmatched by Thunder in loss despite SGA’s absence

Mar 29, 2024, 7:45 PM

Chet Holmgren #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a shot in front of Kevin Durant #35 of th...

Chet Holmgren #7 of the Oklahoma City Thunder goes up for a shot in front of Kevin Durant #35 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half at Paycom Center on March 29, 2024 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

The work the Phoenix Suns have ahead of them over the next couple of weeks was put on prominent display Friday in a 128-103 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Phoenix (43-31) has not been a good team this year. As in, the way it plays together and functions, not the talent on the roster. OKC (51-22), on the other hand, has been an excellent one all regular season.

The Thunder, a beast in the regular season that is fourth in offensive rating and sixth in defensive rating, were missing MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (right quad contusion) for just the third game this season. This actually made the Suns a betting favorite.

But the gap between the two sides was evident. Unlike the Denver Nuggets in Wednesday’s Suns win, OKC’s activity and engagement were high. It showed what it would mean for this Suns team to face a top-three seed in the Western Conference for a playoff series, if Phoenix can even get that far. It is outmatched in several ways.

The Suns trailed by 11 at halftime despite an OK start, having chunks of good ball movement and decent defensive effort sprinkled into an overall performance lacking the air-tight execution required against high-end competition. OKC’s offense possessed flow at all times without Gilgeous-Alexander, lacking a turnover in the first quarter and constantly getting to the paint while drilling 3s (as the best shooting team in the league alongside Boston).

The game was still up for grabs but then Phoenix’s slippage really went beyond just being a step slow on a pass or defensive rotation in the third quarter. The mental disconnection we’ve seen in droves returned and OKC extended its lead to 26 with 4:05 left plus a whole other quarter.

There was no elite outing from a Suns star to keep them in this. Kevin Durant got up to 26 points and six rebounds, though it was more in the realm of some of his previous performances compared to his mega-impactful night on Wednesday. Devin Booker was held to 14 points and nine shot attempts while Bradley Beal was 6-of-13 for 15 points.

The Suns got back Jusuf Nurkic (right ankle sprain) after one game but he was not very effective, as he’s had a tough time this month in general while playing through multiple injuries.

Josh Giddey led the charge for the Thunder and commanded the offense well to the tune of 23 points, seven rebounds and nine assists on 10-of-15 shooting.

OKC shot 16-of-30 (53.3%) from 3-point range.

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