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Nurkic irked by refs after historic 31-rebound night

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Published in Basketball
Sunday, 03 March 2024 22:43

PHOENIX -- Jusuf Nurkic broke the Suns' franchise record with 31 rebounds, the most in an NBA game in 13 years, but he didn't want to talk much about the feat after a 118-110 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.

Nurkic and Phoenix coach Frank Vogel spoke critically of some missed foul calls after the Thunder escaped with the victory despite blowing a 24-point lead.

"I don't know, man, I'm just trying to do my role the best I can. But it's kind of really messed up when you have 13 offensive rebounds and 16 shots then zero free throws," Nurkic said. "As hard as I work, and I feel like [I'm] getting fouled as [much as] anybody in the league.

"And I'm not here saying -- we lost the game, it is what it is -- [but] it's just, it's not really common sense. At least one [free throw]. [To] not even have one? But I know it happens. I ain't the first one, and I ain't going to be the last, either, unfortunately."

Vogel, in particular, was focused on how often he thought Suns star Kevin Durant was fouled.

"We've got to be better," the coach said. "[But] I'll start by saying they fouled the s--- out of Kevin Durant all night. Whether he has the ball and he's getting stripped three, four, maybe even five times, and every time he tries to get open, he's being held, which is something I really want the league to look at."

Both Vogel and Nurkic noted the Suns' 22 turnovers, as well. Oklahoma City had six.

"That's where it starts, the turnover problem," Vogel added. "We've had issues with it throughout the year. This team is No. 1 in the league in forcing turnovers; we didn't handle their pressure well enough and their length -- and recognizing our length when we try to touch the paint. It was costly."

Nurkic finished with 14 points, as well, but he had five of Phoenix's turnovers.

"Another turnover issue," he said. "We got 22? So, I think we all agree in the locker room that this s--- has got to change. We'll see going forward something different."

Nurkic's efforts off the boards resulted in the most rebounds by any player since Kevin Love had 31 in 2010, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

"Incredible," Vogel said of Nurkic. "The loss aside, you just look at a 31-rebound night -- at any point in the NBA history -- [it] is just an incredible performance. The best in Phoenix Suns history. He is a beast on the defensive end of the court."

On Nov. 12, 2010, Love, while with the Minnesota Timberwolves, finished with 31 points and 31 rebounds in a 112-103 victory over the New York Knicks. Nurkic was 16 years old when Love posted that total.

"I saw, on the screen, that I had 28," Nurkic said, when asked if he knew, during the game, he was on his way to history. "But it doesn't really matter. I mean, it's great, but we lost the game."

Nurkic eclipsed the Phoenix rebound mark of 27 rebounds set by Tyson Chandler against the Atlanta Hawks in January 2016. Nurkic's previous career high was 23 for the Portland Trail Blazers against the Sacramento Kings in January 2019. The 7-footer had 22 earlier this season against both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets.

The Suns played Sunday without star guard Devin Booker after he sprained his right ankle late in a loss to the visiting Houston Rockets on Saturday night.

Oklahoma City improved to 42-18 to take a half-game lead over its rivals Minnesota and the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference's Northwest Division. The Thunder had won six in a row before losing Thursday night at the San Antonio Spurs.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 35 points for the Thunder, and all five Oklahoma City starters scored in double figures. Jalen Williams put up 22 points, Chet Holmgren 14, Luguentz Dort 13 and Josh Giddey 10. Gilgeous-Alexander also tallied eight rebounds and nine assists.

Bradley Beal scored 31 points for Phoenix (35-26). Ejected Saturday night for a scuffle with Houston's Jalen Green, Beal played 33 minutes in his second game back from a strained hamstring. Durant added 20 points, and Eric Gordon scored 15 after missing three games because of a groin injury.

Vogel said before Sunday's contest that Booker's ankle was still being evaluated and that the team would have more information on Tuesday.

Initially, Phoenix shook off Booker's absence, racing to a 17-4 lead. But the Thunder scored the next 10 points and finished the first quarter on a 24-7 run to lead 28-22. Gilgeous-Alexander had 10 points in the period.

Nurkic played seven minutes in the first quarter and had 12 rebounds -- but the Suns registered only one rebound for the rest of the quarter after he went to the bench for a breather.

"He's a big fella, man. He works his tail off down there. He competes. He tries to get every single rebound," Beal said of Nurkic. "I think that just speaks volume; he's the best rebounding big in the league, for sure. His ability to use his size, clear out space.

"[I] tip my hat to him."

Gilgeous-Alexander, second to the Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic in scoring average at 31.4 entering Sunday's matchup, had 18 points in the first half as the Thunder led 66-52 at intermission. Beal scored 17 to lead the Suns.

Oklahoma City was up by as many as 24 before the Suns stormed back to cut it to 86-83 late in the third quarter. Gordon's 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter made it 91-89, the Suns' first lead since the first quarter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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