Thunder beat Suns to top West despite Nurkic’s franchise record 31 rebounds

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 35 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Phoenix Suns 118-110 on Sunday night to take the lead in the Western Conference, coming back from a 24-point lead.

Jusuf Nurkic broke the Suns’ franchise record with 31 rebounds, the most in an NBA game in 14 years. He also had 14 points — and five of Phoenix’s 21 turnovers. The Suns were playing without star guard Devin Booker after he sprained his ankle in the loss to Houston on Saturday night.

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Oklahoma City improved to 42–18 and took a half-game lead over Northwest Division rivals Denver and Minnesota in the Western Conference. The Thunder had won six in a row before losing in San Antonio on Thursday night, and this one came close.

“We were able to get the start under control pretty quickly,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “And then that was an avalanche in the third and fourth quarters, that’s where they really got into trouble. But I thought we showed great resilience in the fourth to climb back into it.”

Nurkic broke Tyson Chandler’s Phoenix rebound record of 27 against Atlanta in January 2016. Nurkic’s previous career-high was 23 for Portland against Sacramento in January 2019. The seven-footer had 22 against both the Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn this season. After the match, Nurkic said he was unhappy with the referees despite his record.

“It’s great, but we lost the game. But it really gets messy when you have 13 offensive rebounds and 16 shots and then zero free throws,” Nurkic said. “As hard as I work, I feel like I get fouled just like everyone else in the league.

“And I’m not saying here – we lost the game, it is what it is – (but) it’s just not really common sense. At least one (free throw). (To) not even have one? But I know it happens. I’m not the first, and unfortunately I won’t be the last.”

Oklahoma City led by 24 before the Suns stormed back to cut the score to 86-83 late in the third quarter. Eric Gordon’s three-pointer early in the fourth quarter made it 91-89, the Suns’ first lead since the first quarter.

“We stopped making mistakes,” Suns head coach Frank Vogel said of what ended up being a 39-8 Phoenix run. “I tried so hard to get Kevin involved instead of letting the game come to us.”

But the Thunder’s stars held strong and came away with the win.

“I just play the game level-headed and always try to get the next possession in front of me,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Basketball is a game of runs, so there are ups and downs. You just have to try to turn the tide and you can only do that by taking possession after possession. “I try to keep the same mentality no matter what.”