Thunder hold off Suns to regain top spot in West

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Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Sander vs Suns NBA

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 2, with Phoenix Suns forward Drew Eubanks during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Sunday, March 3, 2024, in Phoenix. drive. (AP Photo/Rick Scutelli)

PHOENIX — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 35 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied from a 24-point deficit to beat the Phoenix Suns 118-110 on Sunday night and take first place in the NBA Western Conference.

Jusuf Nurkic broke the Suns’ franchise record with 31 rebounds, the most in an NBA game in the last 14 years. He also scored his 14 points and accounted for his 5 points off of Phoenix’s 21 turnovers. The Suns played without star guard Devin Booker after spraining his right ankle late in a loss to Houston on Saturday night.

Oklahoma City improved to 42-18, leading the Western Conference by a half-game over Northwest Division rivals Denver and Minnesota. The Thunder had won six straight games before Thursday night’s loss to San Antonio, a game they narrowly missed.

“We were able to get the start under control pretty quickly,” Thunder manager Mark Daigneault said. “Then we had an avalanche in the third and fourth quarters and they really stepped up there. But we showed great resiliency in the fourth and I thought we bounced back from there after that.”

All five of Oklahoma City’s starting pitchers finished in double digits. Jaylen Williams had 22 points, Chet Holmgren had 14 points, Luguentz Dort had 13 points, Josh Guidi had 10 points and Gilgeous-Alexander also had eight rebounds and nine assists.

Nurkic broke the Phoenix rebound record of 27, set by Tyson Chandler against Atlanta in January 2016. Nurkic’s previous career high was 23 in a January 2019 game between Portland and Sacramento. The 7-footer had 22 hits this season against the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Nurkic said. “It’s great, but we lost the game.”

Bradley Beal scored 31 points for Phoenix. Beal, who was ejected Saturday night after getting into a scuffle with Houston’s Jalen Green, played 33 minutes in his second game back from a hamstring strain. He had seven turnovers.

“I’m really happy to be on the floor this past year,” said Beal, who has missed 28 games this season due to various injuries.

Kevin Durant added 20 points but had five turnovers, and Eric Gordon had 15 points despite missing three games with a groin injury.

Phoenix coach Frank Vogel said before the game that Booker’s ankle was still being evaluated and the team would have more information Tuesday.

Initially, Phoenix shook off Booker’s absence and took a 17-4 lead. But the Thunder then scored 10 points and ended the first quarter on a 24-7 run to take a 28-22 lead. Gilgeous-Alexander scored 10 points in the period.

Nurkic played seven minutes and recorded 12 rebounds in the first quarter, but after he went to the bench for rest, the Suns recorded just one rebound the rest of the quarter.

Gilgeous-Alexander, who as of Sunday was second in scoring behind Dallas’ Luka Doncic with an average of 31.4 points, scored 18 points in the first half Sunday as the Thunder led 66-52 by intermission. Beal led the Suns with 17 points.

Oklahoma City led by 24 points, but the Suns fought back late in the third quarter to cut it to 86-83. Early in the fourth quarter, Gordon’s 3-pointer made it 91-89, giving the Suns the lead for the first time since the first quarter.

“We stopped fouling,” Vogel said of Phoenix’s 39-8 win. “We were trying really hard to get Kevin involved instead of letting the game go to us.”

But the Thunder’s stars kept their cool and emerged victorious.

“I just try to play the game calmly and always try to play on the next possession in front of me,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Basketball is a run game so there are ups and downs and you have to try to change the flow, but you can only do that by winning the ball in possession. “No matter what happens, I try to keep the same mentality. Masu.”

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next schedule

Thunder: Monday night at the Los Angeles Lakers.

Suns: Tuesday night at Denver.

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