Though I’ve been tracking this in the Week in Review for some time, Russell Westbrook’s chase for a second-straight season of averaging a triple-double largely flew under the radar until the season’s final few games. With a career-high 20 boards in the season finale versus Memphis, Westbrook secured the feat, becoming the first player in NBA history to go back to back averaging a triple-double. Until Westbrook notched 42 triple doubles and averaged the same last year, Oscar Robertson was the standard in statistical achievement. But not now with Russ having bested the Big O in consecutive seasons, it’s time for Westbrook to supplant Robertson as the standard.
After dropping one against the Warriors on April 3, the Thunder was at real risk of missing the playoffs — a disappointment at best, and utter embarrassment at worst.
Yet somehow, thanks to a three-game streak to close out the season and some timely losses by the Jazz and Spurs on the regular season’s final night, the Thunder landed in the fourth spot in the Western Conference.
I don’t think fourth is great — it’s still an underachievement considering the lofty expectations (I had the Thunder finishing second in the West with 60 wins), but despite all the downs, you have to take home-court advantage in the first round and thank your lucky stars.
Concussed and sprained
In the second quarter against the Heat, Alex Abrines’s went down following a collision. He left the game and was placed into the NBA’s concussion protocol the following day. Then, in the season finale, Corey Brewer went down hard after being fouled on a corner three attempt, which also knocked him out of the game.
While the team is hopeful Brewer will be ready to go Sunday, the status of Brewer and Abrines for Game 1 is currently uncertain. If one or both don’t play, the Thunder will need to turn to either a rookie (Terrance Ferguson) or a player who has gone from fill-in starter to bench warmer (Josh Huestis).
Up a Notch
In a near must-win game against the Houston Rockets, the Thunder fell behind by one with about seven minutes left. Backs against the wall, Westbrook did what he does, playing relentlessly and leading the Thunder on an 11-0 run to put it away.
It’s something that the optimists want to believe about this team and its playoff possibilities — that OKC has another gear that it’s been saving for the playoffs. We’ve seen it in spurts, moments when the defensive intensity is striking and the offense attacks without reservation. We’ve seen the Thunder wallop the Warriors twice and win impressively against Rockets and Raptors.
The playoffs are the ultimate test of a team’s mettle and if the Thunder truly has that extra gear — that notch up above — we should see it starting Sunday. And maybe, just maybe, the sunshine pumpers who have kept the faith throughout the struggles this season will be rewarded with the most satisfying “I told you so,” in sports.
Seven Minutes of Heaven and Hell
For the first seven minutes and twenty-three seconds of the Thunder’s road game against the Heat, the Thunder failed to convert a field goal. That’s right, zero field goals, just five points, and an early 18-point deficit.
It surely looked at that point as if OKC was in line for a drubbing, forcing a must-win situation against the Grizzlies a couple nights later.
However, in a nod to the believers in the Thunder’s ability to turn it up a notch, the team rallied back to put the game within striking distance, holding an 89-88 lead with just under seven minutes to go. And as bad as the first seven minutes were, the final seven minutes were equally as amazing. Oklahoma City closed out the game on a 26-5 run, flashing a dizzying array of impact defense, transition offense, and hot shooting to wipe out the Heat and clinch a playoff spot.
I have to think that was one of the more impressive wins this season. With nothing going right to start, the Thunder dug in the heels, trusted that the shots would fall, and in the all-important fourth quarter, absolutely shut Miami down.
Melo Block Party
This past week, Carmelo Anthony had two impressive blocks in critical situations: an impressive chase-down of Goran Dragic of the Heat and key snub of James Harden of the Rockets. Blocks are an element of Anthony’s game that hasn’t really been notable his entire career, and his average of 0.6 blocks per game this year is close to his career average of 0.5 per. However, in the fewest per game minutes of his career, Anthony is actually in the midst of a career season swatting shots. Per 36 minutes and per 100 possessions, Anthony is blocking shots at a career-high pace (0.7 per and 1.0 per respectively). And his block percentage of 1.8 percent blows any other season out of the water (his next best is 1.5 percent in 2013-14).
Much ado has been made about Anthony’s defensive liabilities (a lot by me), but one thing you can’t deny is that he has been giving effort. He’s certainly on the downhill of a stellar NBA career, but I’m going to take this moment and give proper due to Melo really working hard to contribute, not just with his frustrating isolation plays, but with spirited defensive effort.
And one more makes seven…
Russ steals one from Houston
Must win. Back against the wall. Rockets rallying back. Russ comes up with a massive steal. Because of course he did.