Saturday, the resurgent Oklahoma City Thunder withstood a tenacious Utah Jazz rally to overthrow their leading division rival 3-1 in head-to-head competition.
During a 112-104 home win, Russell Westbrook and company exercised total mastery versus Quin Snyder’s crew until starting power forward Taj Gibson (Hip) exited mid-way through the third quarter.
Before Gibson’s injury, OKC built a commanding 78-58 advantage as Russell Westbrook (15 pts, 13 rebs, 10 ast) notched triple-double #32 of his season in quick fashion. However, minus the Thunder’s newest acquisition, Utah mounted a 46-34 charge amid OKC’s 10-of-29 FG shooting drought.
With the Jazz battling late, as Gibson sat, Westbrook garnered just one assist and 4-of-12 FGM. When finally the game clock struck zeros, exasperated Oklahoma City accomplished just enough to suppress Utah’s unrelenting comeback efforts.
Meanwhile, during OKC’s tenuous, yet quality victory Taj Gibson (15 pts, 6 rebs, 22 mins) showcased his rising value as a Thunder.
Case in point: Westbrook netted a game-high +24 plus/minus prior to Gibson’s injury. Afterwards, Westbrook’s productivity -12 (game-low +/-) plummeted.
Further, Oklahoma City is 2-0, with wins over San Antonio and Utah since Coach Billy Donovan inserted the 7th-year veteran into OKC’s starting lineup. Following a deflating four-game losing streak to mediocre opposition, Taj’s new role appears to be a windfall for Thunder nation.
Even though Saturday’s success was not without drama, nonetheless the weekend produced other positive storylines for Oklahoma City Thunder basketball. Here is a look at these notable events.
1. Russell Westbrook moves into 2nd place all-time for triple-doubles in a season
After claiming his 32nd triple-double this season, Russell Westbrook trails only Oscar Roberson (41) for most in a single campaign.
Westbrook finished with 33 pts, 14 asts, and 11 rebs vs. Utah. Overall, the 6’3 guard sits nine triple-doubles behind Wilt Chamberlain (78) for fourth all-time.
Through 66 contests, Westbrook averages 31.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, and 10.1 apg. As 16 games remain, Russell’s triple-double watch is reaching a frenzied pitch.
2. Victor Oladipo’s spirited performance
OKC’s “X-Factor” appeared fully healed and emphatically explosive while creating two-way havoc opposite Utah. The 6’4 guard rose for a bevy of highlight-reel throwdowns en route to gaining 22 points on 3-6 3PM to bolster OKC’s victorious cause.
Since returning from a prolonged absence due to back injury, Oladipo has made ten of fifteen 3PA’s.
OKC is 11-3 when Oladipo scores 20+ points.
3. Andre Roberson’s defense
Every team needs an Andre Roberson. On a game-to-game basis, the 25-year-old’s tenacity is infectious.
Saturday, matched against All-Star Gordon Hayward, the “All-Star stopper” did just that in limiting his more heralded counterpart to nine points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Further, Roberson contributed an efficient eight points, two steals, and block while getting his groove on following a made three.
4. Steven Adams’ offensive rebounding; and
5. Enes Kanter’s reserve scoring
The “Stache bros.” did their thing on the inside as OKC blatantly exploited an interior void left by Rudy Gobert’s absence.
Adams picked up four offensive boards, and nine overall, as Kanter bulled his way to 16 points in 18 minutes.
Overall, OKC outscored Utah 58-44 in the paint.
In closing, it was reassuring to witness a continuation of strong play from Oklahoma City as the team prepares for a two-game road trip beginning Tuesday vs. Brooklyn.
Hopefully, OKC can overcome its road struggles to build momentum as the post-season quickly approaches.