The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the Miami Heat on the road, 115-93. The Thunder have clinched a playoff birth with their 47th win of the regular season, using a late game run to take down the energized Heat. Russell Westbrook recorded another triple-double to help lead the way, with a monster stat line of 23-18-13, but also had 6 of the team’s 9 turnovers. Incredibly, Westbrook, if he plays on Wednesday night vs the Grizzlies, can still finish the season averaging a triple-double, as with 18 rebounds tonight, needs 16 more to reach the back-to-back milestone. So, you know, get out those ‘Stat padder!’ banners you’ve been sitting on for the past year Thunder fans, ahem.
Despite Westbrook’s game and Paul George’s decent night (27 points, 7-19 from the floor, 8-9 from the free throw line), it was the Thunder defense that deserves the majority of credit. Despite falling behind early 16-1 after 5 minutes of play and 23-5 after 7 minutes, OKC’s resiliency enabled them to begin to turn the game around and finished the 1st only down 6. Through the next 2 quarters, despite continuing to shoot poorly and giving up a huge scoring advantage to the Heat in the paint, OKC stayed within range with defense and an intentional effort to get to the free throw line (31-38 overall). But even though tying the game on several occasions in the 3rd, the Thunder simply could not find the offensive range they needed to finally turn the tables.
Heading into the 4th down 5, the Thunder bench once again showed the starters how to play team ball. Ray Felton, Patrick Patterson, Corey Brewer, and Jerami Grant began to move the ball with sharper precision and variety, which finally helped OKC spring a few leaks in the dam. With Westbrook checking back in with 8:22 to go, he immediately hit Grant with a layup for an and-1, and the rout was on. Over the final 7:46 of action, the Thunder outscored the Heat, 29-7, and 39-12 overall in the quarter. It is not that OKC suddenly found the magic shooting stroke, but that all the good things they had been doing on both ends finally bore results. The team shot 11-17 in the quarter, including 14-15 from the charity stripe (Grant led the way shooting 6-7). Meanwhile, they held the Heat to 5-20 from the floor and 1-7 from three. It was a staggering knockout blow, and it happened because OKC stayed locked in defensively and gave themselves a chance to win.
With a seeding now locked up, the Thunder still have something to say about where they will sit at the end of the regular season. But at the very least, we witnessed something that, if sustainable, gives us a glimmer of hope.