Though, on another imbalanced night for OKC, Westbrook’s 26-point, seven-rebound, three-assist fourth-quarter and overtime meant everything.
It had too.
Each jaunt, flick, and rim-explosion that built the latter-half of the six-time All-Star’s NBA-record 57 point, 13 rebound, 11 assist masterstroke was necessary to overcome an errant OKC supporting cast.
Overall, not including Westbrook, the Thunder shot just 22-62 FG, 9-of-17 FT, and 4-18 3P.
At one point, Billy Donovan’s cardiac-crew trailed 27-win Orlando by 21 points.
Versus lottery-bound opposition, for the second time in as many games, hope seemed lost for OKC before Westbrook’s divine intervention secured a 114-106 victory.
With this fresh in mind, here are observations from Wednesday’s contest and other recent Thunder outings.
Jerami Grant’s unsung value:
Last night, thankfully, Coach Donovan noticed that reliable Taj Gibson was struggling to contain Aaron Gordon, who disrupted OKC’s overall scheme with 11 points, and four steals through three quarters.
To counteract this matchup discrepancy, Donovan placed versatile Jermai Grant on Gordon for the game’s remainder. And during this time, though Grant didn’t score, Orlando’s starting power forward and hot-handed Evan Fournier were held to just two points as OKC roared back 42-24 during the decisive final 17 minutes.
Additionally, Grant’s inclusion allowed Victor Oladipo to devote more on-ball attention to Fournier.
Jermai Grant finished the night 0-3 from the field, but +30 as he hounded a tiring Orlando squad as Oklahoma City prevailed in overtime.
Hey, Jerami Grant was a +30 tonight! https://t.co/6mg3OHcaHS— Royce Young (@royceyoung) March 30, 2017
2. Depth Woes
While Oklahoma City’s opening five uncharacteristically struggled, the team’s two most successful lineups contained Jerami Grant and four OKC starters with a variant of Steven Adams or Taj Gibson — though the Adams lineup yielded a bit more success (8-of-14 FG, 8 reb, 18 pts, 6 minutes, +9).
And even as Enes Kanter (17 pts, 10 rebs) played an instrumental role in Oklahoma City’s comeback, except for Kanter’s 5 pts, the Thunder bench (outside of Grant) was radio silent during the team’s defining 17-minute push.
Moving forward, OKC’s reserves must offer consistency to a usually solid starting core.
3. Westbrook’s Competitive Drive
One cannot deny that Russell Westbrook is enjoying a rarefied singular season. Further, there aren’t many players, past or present, who could will this Thunder iteration to the heights Westbrook has.
Yet, in a jaded era of instant video gratification, it seems Westbrook’s accomplishments have become slightly diluted. However, ad nauseam replays and selective metrics cannot diminish the aura of Russell’s 16-17’ campaign.
Consider that without Westbrook’s 42 fourth-quarter/overtime points vs. Dallas and Orlando, the current narrative in Thunder nation would be of a much harsher tone.
For this reason, whether the NBA chooses to award Westbrook with MVP plaudits is, at this point, inconsequential. Long after this era fades from the court, posterity will realize the historical value of the 6’3 guard’s ongoing exploits.
And in a tinge of irony, future generations will also enjoy countless highlight reels of Westbrook’s fourth-quarter magic.
4. Quote of the Night:
Russell Westbrook on the significance of his 38th triple-double of this season:
"That is definitely a blessing. I definitely don't take this game for granted, and I try to come out each night and try to compete at a high level. That is definitely something that is a blessing and definitely something that I can be proud of."
5. What’s Next?
After taking four-of-five on the road, Oklahoma City returns to Chesapeake Energy Arena Friday night to face the San Antonio Spurs in nationally-televised action.