By Krandall Brantley
Earl Watson will have to wait a little longer.
The Suns fought hard in a game against Oklahoma City but fell short of picking up their interim coach’s first victory Monday night. The Thunder’s dangerous duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was too much for the Suns to handle down the stretch, combining for 61 points on the night and the Suns lost 122-106.
The Suns were outscored from behind the arc (45 points to three), allowing the Thunder to make 15 out of 33.
“OKC did a great job hitting threes,” Watson said. “Obviously KD is KD. He had one three that was tough, it was on the sideline.”
Late in the second half, Durant showed the Talking Stick Arena crowd why he’s a four-time NBA scoring champion scoring his last six shot attempts, including four from three-point range, finishing the game with 32 points.
The Suns, who have two of their last 25 games, shot just more than 71% from the field in the second quarter, including a stretch where they scored on 15 straight possessions after falling behind 28-19 at the end of the first period.
The Suns began the second quarter with starting guards P.J. Tucker and Archie Goodwin, and with key reserves Mirza Teletovic, Alex Len and Sonny Weems.
This lineup provided a huge spark for Phoenix during the second quarter. Len finished the first half and ended the game with 13 points, while Teletovic scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half.
“We fought and got back in the game,” Len said. “I think we did a good job scoring, we executed our lays, we shot over 50 percent for the game so we did a really good job there, setting screens and getting open. We just executed our stuff.”
The same Suns’ lineup cut the Oklahoma City lead to 45-43 after Teletovic hit a jumper with 3:44 remaining in the second quarter. After seven first-quarter points, Durant failed to score a basket in the second quarter, constantly settling for jump shots. Watson was pleased by Tucker’s defensive effort on Durant.
“If you look at our roster, I’m not sure we have anyone else who can guard Kevin Durant, so P.J. did a great job. He gave us his heart as usual,” Watson said.
Tucker received a standing ovation after fouling out late in the fourth quarter, finishing with 16 points, five steals and five rebounds.
The game was tied at 57 going into halftime and the Suns took the lead for the first time since 8:45 remaining in the first quarter off a Markieff Morris dunk. The high-energy third quarter had 13 lead changes, including the Suns regaining the lead, 77-75, with Teletovic nailing a three from the right wing coming off a handoff.
Phoenix had their biggest lead of the game, 81-75, when Devin Booker made a floater off the glass with 2:38 left in the third quarter. The Thunder closed out the quarter on a quick 5-0 run with a three from Durant and a pair of Dion Waiters free throws, taking an 89-85 lead into the fourth quarter.
Thunder guard Cameron Payne started the final period with a corner and Durant finished a three-point play after drawing a foul on the next possession, increasing their lead to 95-85.
It looked liked the Suns were doomed when Booker fouled out with 7:09 left in the game, but Phoenix didn’t show any signs of quitting.
Watson’s team cut the Thunder lead to 99-94 when Archie Goodwin drove straight down the lane off his defensive rebound to score the layup in traffic with 5:58 remaining.
The Suns eventually cut the lead to 99-96 but couldn’t come any closer, getting outscored 23-6 in the final 5:53 of the game.
“They’re a great team,” said Morris, who had a team-high 23 points. “They have two superstars and when you play a team like that you’ve got to try to limit their role players. Their role players got off and it’s tough to beat a team like that when everybody puts points on the box.”
The Suns will look to bounce back at home against the Golden State Warriors at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at Talking Stick Arena.