You know the games, like against the Rockets, where Russell Westbrook takes a questionable 3 in a big moment and you’re like WHAT ARE DOING WHY????
Well, tonight is why. Because sometimes, he makes them, And when he does, you’re pumping your fist and celebrating the dude’s ridiculous ability. In this case, it wasn’t one 3; it was two. On back-to-back possessions, the second one more insane than the first, Westbrook iced the Celtics.
If you’re looking for an early Heisman Moment, something to file away to tag onto the MVP resume, here’s one to remember. Against a good Celtics team, on the road, with no Victor Oladipo, Westbrook dropped 45-11-11, the first triple-double against Boston in 230 games, and scored the Thunder’s final 15 points.
But here’s the thing, and this is what I’ve been writing since day one of the season: The Thunder are are the mercy of Westbrook’s closing ability. That’s what they will live by, and often die by. With four minutes left I said, Westbrook needs to play near perfect the rest of the way. He did. And the Thunder won. That’s the responsibility he has, mostly by his own choice, and he’s proven for a lot of this season he’s up to it. He’s had some ugly moments. He’s also had plenty of very pretty ones.
Would it be in the Thunder’s best interest to develop some kind of crunchtime strategy outside of Please Russ Do Something Good? Yes. Definitely. But they aren’t there yet, and at this point, I’m not sure it’s not a bad strategy, especially because some of these other pieces aren’t there yet. Especially with Oladipo still out. Westbrook barely moved the ball down the stretch, because he wasn’t about to stand idle and watch Jerami Grant turn it over, or Andre Roberson miss an open 3. If they were going to lose, it was going to be on him, and he’s more than willing to accept that burden. It’s what makes him, him.
The other part: Westbrook is learning this role on the fly as well, too. The narrative was that he tried to usurp crunchtime responsibility from Kevin Durant, but if you watched the Thunder much, you saw him as a deferential piece. Sometimes he was involved, more in the last few years as OKC’s offense improved, but mostly, it was Durant’s closing time and Westbrook was just the guy to make the first pass. So this idea Westbrook isn’t a closer — something I myself was skeptical of — hasn’t really been fleshed out. We’re seeing he’s got plenty of ability doing it.
In my mind, this is the Thunder’s best win of the season. It’s consecutive road wins, something this Thunder team can’t take for granted, and this one against a good Eastern team. They got it done on the shoulders of Westbrook, and that’s just how it has to be. For good, and sometimes, for bad. Deal with it.
- Westbrook has three straight 40+ games running: 46 against the Hawks, 42 against the Pelicans and 45 tonight against Boston.
- Westbrook obviously is the headliner tonight, but the Thunder don’t win this game without some excellent closing defense, namely from Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Isaiah Thomas was taking over, but Roberson switched over and almost entirely eliminated him. Adams had two steals and a big block.
- (I actually thought Billy Donovan was blowing it by not bringing Adams back earlier. He went with Enes Kanter for quite a bit of the fourth, but finally came back with Adams for the final five minutes.)
- The Celtics hacked Roberson twice in the final three minutes, and the 31 percent free throw shooter went 0-4, barely clipping rim on two of them. It was ugly. It was bad. It’s a big, big problem. But at the same time, OKC doesn’t win this game without Roberson on the floor. It’s a tough thing.
- More teams are going to start hacking Roberson. It’s coming.
- So, Domantas Sabonis had himself a little first half. Just 17 points on 7-7 shooting including 3-3 from 3. He finished with 20 on 8-11. He was great.
- It happens with every rookie, with judgement coming with each game they play, but you saw it tonight — the guy has lots of talent. Lots. There’s something to be excited about here. You can see the potential in him, with the IQ, the feel, the awareness, and the skill. Two or three more years in the NBA, and Sabonis could be a cornerstone to the Westbrook-led Thunder.
- One thing Roberson has really done better at the last couple weeks: weakside cutting. He’s timed them well, and he’s catching and finishing. His shooting is what it is, but the cutting is where he can be an effective offensive player.
- Jerami Grant viciously blocks shots. He’s going to kill someone out there.
- The bench has played very well the last two games. It appears there’s some synergy and chemistry building. Everything works through Kanter, and for the most part, with hard cutting and movement, they’re generating good shots.
- Lauvergne’s passing is quite good. Dare I say it’s… Nick Collison-ish? I know. I just gave myself a 15 minute timeout.
- Even with the way the game played out, I think Lauvergne would’ve been a better call over Sabonis to close the game. Just his passing and ability in the pick-and-roll could’ve been useful. But then again, who knows if Russ is giving it up.
- How about this screen from Steven Adams? Like a full on crack-back.
- Kanter is… passing? That’s unlocking a lot of things in the second unit.
- After Alex Abrines had his career night, he got six minutes and hit one 3. Why so little time? There just wasn’t a sensible way to play him with the matchups. He’s too slow for the Celtics’ guards, and he’s too small for the Celtics’ wings.
- How about Kyle Singler hitting that big clutch 3. HOW ABOUT IT.
- Isaiah Thomas just hits some wild shots. That dude is a born scorer. I swear he has a magnet in the ball or something.
- Here’s how you know Russ is insane: I got to the last bullet and just now remembered to mention this was his 14th triple-double of the season. That’s a career bullet point for a lot of players. It’s just part of normal life when it comes to Russ.
Next up: Home against the Wolves on Christmas