(AP) Thunder beats Suns in Westbrook’s return
By MURRAY EVANS
Kevin Durant had 33 points and 10 rebounds, Russell Westbrook had 21 points and seven assists in his return from a knee injury and the Oklahoma City Thunder overcame a ragged performance to beat the Phoenix Suns 103-96 on Sunday night.
Serge Ibaka added nine points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma City (2-1), which won its fifth straight home opener and defeated Phoenix (2-1) for the 11th straight time. The Suns last beat Oklahoma City in December 2010.
Westbrook, sidelined for six months after first tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee during the second game of the NBA playoffs, then having a medical setback, returned three to five weeks ahead of the team’s previously announced timetable.
Eric Bledsoe scored 26 points and added a career-best 14 assists for Phoenix, which opened the season with home wins over Portland and Utah. The Suns stayed with Oklahoma City thanks to 14-of-37 3-point shooting, compared to 2 of 18 for the Thunder.
Phoenix led 79-73 after a 3-pointer by Bledsoe with 7:46 left, but the Thunder scored next eight points, including layups by Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, the latter putting Oklahoma City ahead 81-79 with 6:11 left.
Channing Frye’s basket tied the game for Phoenix, but the Thunder went on a 14-6 run, highlighted by three-point plays from Ibaka and Derek Fisher, to take a 95-87 lead with 2:19 left.
The Suns pulled within 95-92 before Durant slammed home a missed layup by Westbrook with 32.8 seconds left. Gerald Green hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cap a 21-point performance, but Westbrook and Durant went 6-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 29.3 seconds to seal the win.
Westbrook didn’t appear too rusty in his first game action since April, when Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley banged knees with him while going for a steal after Westbrook had stopped to call a timeout.
Westbrook underwent an initial surgery for the injury on April 27. He underwent another surgery on Oct. 1 to remove a loose stitch from the first procedure. At the time, the Thunder said he would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. Under that timetable, Westbrook could have been out for as many as 22 games.
Instead, he missed only two games _ a win at Utah on Wednesday and a loss at Minnesota on Friday. Westbrook said before the game that he never expected to be out four to six weeks.
Usually the first player announced during pre-game introductions, Westbrook instead was the last and he drew an enormous roar from the sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena. He immediately returned to his aggressive self on the court, scoring his first basket at the 7:16 mark of the first quarter on a driving layup.
It quickly became apparent, however, that the Thunder will have to readjust to having Westbrook in the lineup. Oklahoma City struggled with its shooting in the first half, going 16 of 40 (40 percent) and allowing the Suns to lead 45-44 at halftime despite a ragtag performance that included 13 turnovers.
Frye scored 19 points and Goran Drajic had 10 for the Suns on 5-of-9 shooting before leaving the game with a sprained left ankle less than 2 minutes into the third quarter.
The Thunder shot 42.7 percent from the field (35 of 82) but went 31 of 37 from the free throw line (83.8 percent).