Two. The total number of games the Oklahoma City Thunder played this week. Both games, though, were significant, the first coming against the Thunder’s newest rival, the Golden State Warriors, and the second against the team leading the Northwest Division, the Utah Jazz. While the Thunder split the two games, the team was competitive against the NBA-leading Warriors and got a win over the streaking Utah Jazz in Utah.
SIX THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Welcome back, Steven Adams. After missing two games due to a concussion, Steven Adams returned to lineup last night. Though his stats weren’t especially noteworthy (9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 blocks), Adams made a significant impact. In particular, Adams’s hustle in the final two minutes swung a potential defeat to an impressive road win. With the Thunder clinging to a 1 point lead with 1:07 to go, Adams stuffs Derrick Favors at the rim, adds two points on the offensive end, and then, after the Jazz again pulls within 1, Adams dives on the floor to recover an offensive rebound and feeds Westbrook, who is able to milk several seconds off the clock before getting fouled.
The NBA schedule is full of quirks. After playing four games in six nights, all on the road, the Thunder had four full days of rest between games–their longest break except for the All-Star Break. It was an odd scheduling quirk that provided the Thunder some much needed rest in the midst of a season-long six-game road trip. It was especially beneficial with Steven Adams in the league’s concussion protocol after suffering a concussion on January 15 against the Sacramento Kings.
All Star Snub. Despite doing what only one player in the entire history of the NBA had done–averaging a triple double through 43 games, and despite leading the league in points, ranking 2nd in assists, and 11th in rebounds, Westbrook will start the the 2017 NBA-All Star game from the bench. In the first year where fans, media, and players all voted, Westbrook lost a tiebreaker to Stephen Curry and James Harden for the two spots doled out to backcourt players. Westbrook finished third in fan voting (the tiebreaker), nearly 300,000 votes behind Curry and 200,000 votes behind Harden.
Zaza knocks out Westbrook. In a bizarre play, after Zaza Pachulia sent Westbrook to the ground on a hard foul, Pachulia stood over Westbrook like a boxer who’d just knocked-out his opponent. Westbrook eventually got up, and Pachulia was assessed a flagrant foul. The rest of the Thunder players, however, faced criticism for not doing anything to defend Westbrook’s honor. Anthony Morrow later admitted that the team addressed the lack of a response, and Westbrook stated he would “get [Pachulia’s] ass back.” After the game, Pachulia did nothing to quell the situation by dismissing a potential Westbrook injury, saying, “If it was a hard foul, it was a hard foul. There is nothing you can do. So you just move on. If he got hurt, that’s fine, too. It’s part of the game.” You can bet their will be some bad blood boiling when Warrior’s visit Oklahoma City on February 11.
Hello, Kyle Singler. After registering six straight DNP-CD’s, Kyle Singler played six minutes against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 13. After another DNP, Singler played the next two games, against the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors. What’s interesting, however, is Singler playing his most minutes since the third game of the season, with many of them guarding Kevin Durant. Even though Durant went nuclear against the Thunder (again), Singler played admirably and made Billy Donovan look like a genius after Singler nailed a wide-open 3 in the second quarter to give the Thunder a 7-point lead.
Where are you going, Russ?
After the whistle for traveling, Curry asks Westbrook, “What were you doing?” To which Westbrook provided the most astute answer of all time. “I don’t know.”
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
Winner, winner. After Westbrook gave the Thunder a three-point lead with 12 seconds to go, you just knew the Jazz would get a three to tie it. And they did, off a quick three from Gordon Hayward. Fortunately, it took the Jazz just 2 seconds to score, giving Westbrook ample time to put up his traditional 30-foot desperation heave. Except that’s not what happened. An inspired Billy Donovan refuses to advance the ball on the timeout, instead having Westbrook bring the ball up the length of the court. This allowed Adams to sneak up and set a very high screen, getting George Hill off Westbrook’s hip and giving Westbrook a ton of space to operate. With Hill scrambling, Westbrook resisted the urge to take a three. Instead, Westbrook converted a 20-footer to give the Thunder a 2-point lead with just over 1 second left. Utah missed its ensuing shot. It was an impressive play call by Donovan, and an impressive win for the Thunder.