Abdel Nader struggled in their last game. It was bad. There were questions of his NBA ability to the point of being compared to Kyle Singler.
That wasn’t the case Friday night. Nader scored a career high 18 points en route to Oklahoma City’s 118-102 win over the Phoenix Suns. Nader had scored just 16 points all season before Friday night’s victory.
“He’s worked really hard,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “Any time you see a guy put that work in and get a chance to be rewarded like that with the minutes, the performance is well-deserving for him because you see what he does every single day with his work ethic.”
Nader converted a three-point play then scored again inside to put the Thunder up 43-35 with 10:02 left in the first half.
But Josh Jackson sank a 19-footer, followed by a 3-pointer, to ignite the surge. Booker also hit a 3-pointer and Mikal Bridges scored from the baseline to put the Suns ahead 51-47 with 5:22 to go. There were five lead changes the rest of the half, with Oklahoma City leading 58-57 at the break.
Nader’s career high companioned with Russell Westbrook dropping his first 40-point game of the season, Oklahoma City stepped up with Paul George and Alex Abrines out. Westbrook finished with 40 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists.
In a season where Westbrook’s explosion has been questioned at times, the former MVP turned on the jets and blew by the Phoenix Suns, who had won six of their last eight games.
“We lean on defense all season,” Westbrook said, “and it’s important that we constantly keep leaning on that to win games.”
Oklahoma City leaned on it in the fourth quarter, for sure. They used it to go on a 23-4 run over a 6-minute 10-second run that spanned the third and mostly the fourth quarter. They held the Suns to only 2-of-11 over that time frame, including 0-of-4 from the three-point line. The Suns attempted zero free throw attempts during the run.
Dennis Schröder scored 10 points during that run. He’d been struggling for most of the game but came through when the Thunder needed someone to step up.
“In the first half, my shot wasn’t falling and everybody else stepped up doing a great job,” Schroder said. “In the second half, everybody gave me confidence, told me to keep shooting and I did and in the fourth quarter I kept it going, shot every shot I could get and it went in.”
The win pushes Oklahoma City to second place in a tight Western Conference playoff race. They remain a half-game behind divisional foe, Denver, for first place.
Oklahoma City will play the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at 6 p.m in Dallas. Then, they’ll play them again on New Year’s Eve in Oklahoma City.We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Don't forget to subsribe on Youtube! Our Podcast is on iTunes and on Stitcher. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!