for this game

Nash-less Suns hold off Thunder

Dec 30, 2008 - 5:56 AM OKLAHOMA CITY (Ticker) -- With their leader and floor general out of commission Monday night, the Phoenix Suns had to settle for a slew of role players ... and another future Hall of Famer.

Two-time league MVP Steve Nash left the game late in the first quarter with back spasms and did not return, but the Suns found just enough from the rest of their lineup to outlast the Oklahoma City Thunder, 110-102. Shaquille O'Neal came up big with 28 points and 12 boards to lead six players in double figures for Phoenix.

"He did tonight what he has done his entire career - get good position inside, draw fouls, create double teams, kick it out or get high percentage shots," Suns head coach Terry Porter said. "He was a dominant force tonight and allowed us to dictate the game how we wanted to play it. We needed him to step up and he did everything for us we needed."

The Suns had trouble putting the woeful Thunder away thanks in large part to their rookie point guard Russell Westbrook, who dropped in a career-high 31 points.

"Russell is going to get better every game, every month, every year," Thunder interim coach Scott Brooks said. "That is the mentality that we have with him."

The Suns nursed a five-point lead through three quarters, but their bench came through in the final frame to help put away the game.

Recently signed backup point guard Dee Brown - playing his first game as a member of the Suns - opened up the fourth with a 3-pointer. Leandro Barbosa swiped Earl Watson on the other end and Jared Dudley buried a layup to extend the lead into double digits.

"Our guys played huge," Porter said. "Our bench, Leandro Barbosa and Matt Barnes gave us a lot of big plays and took over with Steve out of the game. ... We gave Shaq a breather (and ) they continued to play pressure defense and find ways to get open and score."

Matt Barnes knocked down back-to-back jumpers later in the quarter and Grant Hill connected from the arc as the Suns built a 104-89 advantage that proved insurmountable for the Thunder.

"Shaq was doing his thing inside, and when they doubled down on him, we swung the ball around to the open guy, which was me a lot of the time, and I hit a variety of shots," Barnes said.

Oklahoma City staged a 9-0 run to cut its deficit to just 104-98, but Amare Stoudemire answered with a dunk, then fed O'Neal for a layup moments later to put the game away for Phoenix.

With Nash sidelined, the Suns centered their offense around Shaq - and the strategy paid off this time. He was 10-of-12 from the floor and an impressive 8-of-12 from the free-throw line.

"I've been telling them all year, 'Let me do what I do,' I can always get those kind of numbers," O'Neal said. "Just because I'm 35, that doesn't mean I can't do it anymore. Guys were looking for me, and I did what I always do - take the high-percentage shot, keep my shooters involved. When I can do that, it's an easy game."

Richardson added 20 points, while Barbosa - playing extra minutes in Nash's absence - came up with 10 points, five assists and six steals.

The Thunder were hurt by a subpar night by rising star Kevin Durant, who went just 5-of-17 from the floor.

"They have some smart defenders; guys like Grant Hill are smart and know how to defend great players," Brooks said. "He pushed Kevin out of his spots, and they trapped Kevin and directed a lot of attention towards him. That is something he is going to have to acknowledge and learn to play out of."

Fellow second-year player Jeff Green carried more of the load with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Since finally winning their first game of the month on December 19, the Thunder have proceeded to lose five straight.

"I was careless with the ball and it hurt us," said Westbrook, who committed six turnovers. "If we cut down on our mistakes, we will win games like this. We are close to turning this thing around but we've got to keep making smart decisions with the basketball."