By Randy Renner
The Thunder struggled yet again on defense against an outmanned opponent and had to rely on one of the team's superstars and one of the team's lesser used players to survive.
Seldom used Thunder forward Kyle Singler won praise from his coach and from his superstar teammates for hanging in and being ready when his number was called for the first time in weeks.
Russell Westbrook's number comes up every game and again he didn't disappoint, providing key baskets, big assists and a huge block at the end of the game to make sure the 2016 new year started on a happy note.
Singler came up huge for the Thunder in the fourth quarter of Thursday's more difficult than it should have been 110-106 win over the Phoenix Suns.
As the OKC defense struggled again to get stops head coach Billy Donovan, who hadn't used Singler for any meaningful minutes since December 21st against the Clippers, decided his length might be able to help slow down the Suns attack.
Turned out Singler proved valuable on the offensive end too with his best quarter of the season. Playing all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter Singler scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting, including a huge corner three in the last minute. He also grabbed four rebounds, two off the offensive glass that kept possessions alive and he even handed out an assist.
"I really admire Kyle for being as professional as he is," Donovan said. Though Singler has been out of the rotation for a while because of his struggles on offense he's always one of the first Thunder players in the gym to work on his game and one of the last to leave.
"I just thought he could help us because of his length defensively against their small lineups," Donovan added.
For Singler it was an unexpected boost to his waning confidence, for Westbrook it was just another night at the office.
He led all scorers with 36 points on a very efficient 12-for-19 shooting including 11-for-11 at the free throw line. Westbrook also handed out 12 assists and was credited with five steals. He also blocked a layup attempt by rookie Devin Booker in the closing seconds that could have brought Phoenix to within a bucket.
"I have great respect for Russ as a competitor," Donovan said. "He's the same night after night. He played an exceptional game tonight."
The Thunder needed all of his heroics because they had had trouble slowing down a Suns team that scored just 79 points in a blowout loss in San Antonio the night before.
Phoenix hit 52.4 percent overall and 40.0 percent (8-for-20) from beyond the arc. The suns also scored 56 points in the paint and 18 second chance points. Both have been areas of concern for OKC for the last several games.
Kevin Durant did not have a particular good shooting night (9-for-21 overall and 2-for-8 on threes) ending up with 23 points.
The two OKC superstars were the only Thunder players in double figures.
So the Thunder win again despite the problems and have now won 12 of their last 14 games. They play four of their next six on the road beginning with a trip to Charlotte for a Saturday night game against the Hornets and a reunion with former Thunder shooting guard Jeremy Lamb.