Well, that’s one way to end a game. Maybe not the smartest way to end a game, but it ended it regardless. And considering the situation and the current circumstance, it was a needed one too.
Four straight losses, looking like five, but Russell Westbrook decided to just go end the dumb thing. Sure, he should’ve waited for the foul. But after watching Alex Abrines nearly give it away, it was almost like he said, “Here, let me show you how it’s done.” Being in the locker room after the game, the fact the Thunder won wasn’t the only thing. It was the way they won, the emphatic poster to cap it off. There was a palpable buzz and enthusiasm. And it was something this team need after the deflating losing streak.
Thing is, this win over the Rockets actually has a bunch of layers. It was a fascinating game. The Rockets had seven players in double-figures, the highest total being 14 and the lowest 10. The Thunder had two: Westbrook with 30, and Oladipo with 29. The James Harden-Russell Westbrook showdown didn’t come to fruition, mostly because Andre Roberson prevented it from happening. Harden scored 13 on 4-16 shooting, plus six turnovers (and 13 assists). Main thing was, Roberson didn’t foul him (seven free throws). On the other side, Roberson was a borderline offensive dumpster fire, missing all five of his 3s, shooting 2-11 overall which featured a missed gimme layup, and hesitating all over the floor on open looks. Naturally, he did have the go-ahead bucket, a backdoor alley-oop set up by Westbrook.
The Thunder didn’t exactly solve anything, but they did at least get back to what got them to 6-1. The first half was a Big 12 football game, but the Thunder found their defensive chops to finish, holding the Rockets scoreless — yes, scoreless — for the final 6:26 until Eric Gordon hit a meaningless 3 (unless you were gambling on the game — the line was -2.5). The Rockets missed 13 of their final 14 3s, and only scored 13 in the fourth. That’s how the Thunder won. They didn’t win with any kind of great offensive execution, or masterful play from Westbrook. It was “stops on demand” as Westbrook called it. Why didn’t they beat the Magic or Clippers? Because they couldn’t get those.
The win sets the Thunder up to put a few more in their pocket with winnable games ahead. As shown, nothing is a gimme. Which is why you have to enjoy ’em when you get ’em.
- Steven Adams downplayed the wrap on his hand bothering him, but it’s pretty obvious it is. He missed a bunny layup, and then a bunny alley-oop. Said Adams, “Either way it’s just that I sucked pretty much.” He started by saying the wrap had nothing to do with it, then worked around to saying he can’t let the wrap bother him. Bottom line: I think the wrap is bothering him.
- Billy Donovan did note Adams defense being great, and I concur. Especially in the second half. As great as Roberson was on Harden, Adams enabled a lot of that because he was so good showing and recovering on Capela. It allowed the Thunder to not switch, and keep Roberson on Harden basically the entire game.
- Ryan Anderson got away from Domantas Sabonis a couple times, but in the second half, specifically the fourth quarter, the rookie did an exceptional job. Basically, he just tried really, really hard.
- Those final 20 seconds. Woof. It started with Westbrook trying to hit a leaking Adams for a dunk. Harden read it and picked it off and had Ariza wide open for a game-tying 3. Harden threw it behind him for a turnover. OKC just needed to get it in and make a free throw. They got it in, and got it to Alex Abrines. Who… DROVE TO THE BUCKET. Abrines missed a stumbling layup and yet, the Rockets knocked it out of bounds. Then Westbrook got it and… DROVE TO THE BUCKET. Except Westbrook made his dunk. Even if it wasn’t smart.
- Westbrook summed it up perfectly: “That’s the risk you take. At least, that’s the risk I take.” Man, I love that.
- Westbrook on Roberson’s defense: “I think Dre’s been doing an amazing job, especially defensively all year long and he’s not getting credit for it. He comes out and competes and guards the best players every night and does a great job of it.”
- Donovan: “I don’t know if Andre gets enough credit for the kind of defender he is and the way he works and the way he sacrifices. He’s never wrapped up in scoring. He’s wrapped up in winning.”
- I asked Roberson if it’s tough being in a position where so many people focus on the negatives of his game, and not the fact he’s truly elite at something else. Specifically how fans groaned when he would hesitate on shots. He admitted to hearing the groans, but said, “I don’t really care. Some of those shots I’m tired and they’re tough to shoot. It’s a different shot. But I don’t really focus on the offensive end. If I’m open, I’m open. I passed up a couple tonight which I was overthinking, but it is what it is. Sometimes you miss them, sometimes you make them. I don’t really get into what the crowd does. People that understand basketball know what’s going on.”
- It’s a conundrum with Roberson, because again, he’s one of the best defensive players in the league. But he’s such an offensive weakness. When he’s slashing and rebounding and finishing, it’s better, but these types of nights are hard to ignore. I’m just not sure he fits with this kind of Thunder team.
- Not that Oladipo is going to shoot like that all the time, but that’s what a lot of us expected between him and Westbrook. He was aggressive and assertive and assumed the burden of supporting Westbrook’s scoring. That’s how he needs to play more often. That kind of secondary mindset.
- The Thunder really need Cameron Payne back. Maybe in the next couple weeks.
- Jerami Grant is quietly shooting the ball well, specifically corner 3s. Not a bad development.
- Can I just do this? Just let me do this. Westbrook’s 3 against the Clippers goes in and Ibaka doesn’t make that shot… the Thunder are 9-3. That doesn’t look so bad.
Next up: Home against the Nets on Friday