As the end line nears to this unforgettable campaign, Oklahoma City Thunder preserver Russell Westbrook is ever accentuating his NBA MVP resume.
After struggling through much of a tense final quarter vs. Utah, Westbrook again ascended to an atmosphere where only legends reside.
In the fourth, while his team trailed by one after leading by 13, the bold 6’3 guard erupted for 12 points with 2:05 remaining. Even seven-consecutive misfires approaching crunch-time yielded no ill-effect to Westbrook’s uncanny confidence.
Following a fourth-successive triple double (43 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists), Westbrook’s Thunder extended a four-game undefeated run, and mastered division-leading Utah for a second time this year.
And seemingly on this night, while placing his Thunder (35-25) ten games above .500, Westbrook branded an indelible imprint upon the minds of national media, as myriad observers echoed in unison concerning the unrelenting performer’s flourishing MVP laurels.
Yes, Russell Westbrook lifted overachieving Oklahoma City upon his robust shoulders, and once-more owned the occasion.
Undoubtedly, through 60 contests, no player has proven more valuable.
However, before Westbrook took center stage, the Thunder enjoyed a stellar first half —which included 12 successive makes from deep. Further, Oklahoma City’s revamped bench joined the fun. Here is a look at OKC’s subplots for success on Tuesday night.
- First-half three-point barrage: OKC’s first-half outside explosion totally belied their ignoble shooting data. The league’s 29th ranked (32.5%) unit from deep connected on 12 made triples before Russ’ reckless 30-foot heave ended the spectacle.
Regarding his outlandish miss, Westbrook quipped: "I shouldn't have shot the s--- I shot.”
Perhaps not. However, Oklahoma City closed the show with 15 made three-pointers on 22 attempts. Westbrook (6-9 3PM) led the way. Doug McDermott made his OKC presence tangibly felt (4-6 3PM, 16 pts); and rookie Alex Abrines (3-3 3PM) blistered from beyond the arc.
- Oklahoma City Thunder reserves: In a contest where three of the Thunder’s five starter’s combined for a scant seven points, OKC’s improved bench unit contributed 48 points, 20 rebounds, seven assists, and five blocks to legitimize the Thunder’s cause.
Taj ----> McBuckets. Doug McDermott up to 14 points now. pic.twitter.com/ru7xB9NKm4— Up The Thunder (@UpTheThunder) March 1, 2017
Noted reserve Enes Kanter (15 pts, 9 rebs, 26 mins) joined Doug McDermott (16 pts, 5 rebs), Taj Gibson (7 pts, 3 rebs, 2 blks), and Jerami Grant (8 pts, 3 rebs) as Oklahoma City showcased a crucial added weapon: depth.
- Alex Abrines’ run as starter: With second-leading scorer Victor Oladipo still MIA, Abrines is proving his considerable worth. The 6’6 rookie finished with 11 points on perfect 4-of-4 shooting vs. defensive stalwart Utah.
Alex Abrines is just barely scratching the surface of what he will eventually become as an NBA player. The rook is making good.— Joshua Broom (@BroomSports82) March 1, 2017
In his three-game run with the first unit, Abrines is averaging 14.3 ppg, while playing 30 mpg and shooting 51/52/100 overall —including 11-21 from range. During Abrines’ 90 minutes of court time as a starter, OKC is +11.
- Sam Presti signs Norris Cole for remainder of season: Announced shortly before taking the floor vs. Utah, the Oklahoma City Thunder has welcomed two-time NBA champion, and proven reserve point guard Norris Cole into the team’s competitive fray.
Cole, who averaged a career-best 10.6 ppg, 3.7 apg, and 26.6 mpg with New Orleans during the 15-16’ campaign figures to serve as Russell Westbrook’s primary backup.
Oklahoma City Thunder Lines of Wonder:
- Russell Westbrook: 38 minutes: 13-28 FGM, 6-9 3PM, 11-12 FTM, 43 pts, 11 rebs, 10 asts, 12 points in final 2:05.
- Doug McDermott: 25 minutes: 6-11 FGM, 4-6 3PM, 16 pts, 5 rebs
- Enes Kanter: 26 minutes: 7-12 FGM, 15 pts, 9 rebs, 1 blk
- Alex Abrines: 26 minutes: 4-4 FGM, 3-3 3PM, 11 pts
Having now won four-consecutive outings, the Thunder embark upon a three-game road stretch Thurs night vs. Portland. This contest also represents the first of a back-to-back set for OKC.