Thunder at Denver Nuggets Game Recap – April 9, 2017

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@okcthunder.com

DENVER – The ball had to come in bounds, but Russell Westbrook wasn’t open yet. 2.9 seconds is enough time for a pass and a shot, right? Enough time for a game-winning 36-footer? Enough time to make history? For Westbrook, the answer to those types of questions has been an emphatic “why not?” all season long, and this afternoon in Denver he responded once again.

Kyle Singler got the ball in to Steven Adams, and Westbrook shook free with one quick darting move, caught the ball and in one motion rose and buried his three-pointer to erase a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and seal a 106-105 come from behind victory.

Watch: The Game Winner

“I practice that shot every day pregame,” Westbrook stated. “I definitely felt confident shooting that shot.”

“(Westbrook) plays to win. He competes to win,” Head Coach Billy Donovan added. “He wants to be able to walk off the court and not feel like he could have done more. That’s the mentality he has.”

Westbrook’s heroics were another chapter in the outrageous, unfathomable season that he’s having in 2016-17, but also capped a game in which he accomplished the unthinkable: breaking Oscar Robertson’s 55-year old triple-doubles record. With 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists, Westbrook recorded his 42nd triple-double of the season and 79th of his career, the latter of which surpassed Wilt Chamberlain for fourth-most in NBA history.

Watch: Hist0ry Made

“I’m very, very blessed. I give all thanks to the man above. He’s blessed me with unbelievable talent to go out and compete at a high level,” Westbrook said humbly after the game. “I’m just thankful for my teammates, for the staff, for the organization, for the fans and my family for believing in me and allowing me to do what I’m doing.”

What preceded Westbrook’s game-winning launch from deep to give the Thunder its 46th win of the year was vitally important to the victory. With Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott out with knee ailments and Andre Roberson on a minute restriction, Donovan and the coaching staff turned to Singler to play heavy minutes at the wing.

In fact, the veteran forward played 34:10 and despite not playing more than 17 minutes in any other game this season, Singler was ready. Donovan called him an absolute professional, and Singler delivered with eight points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals.

“It’s awesome to be out on the court playing with a group of guys like this,” Singler said. “We play basketball every day. The guys that don’t get a lot of minutes, we get our work in and guys have to stay ready. That’s the professional aspect of the game. It’s finding ways to stay focused, stay energized if we’re not playing and tonight I had an opportunity to get out on the court and play and I felt pretty good.

The play on which Westbrook recorded his 10th assist, which caused an eruption of cheers from the road crowd and an announcement from the Nuggets public address announcer, also kick-started the Thunder’s decisive 18-4 run. Westbrook drove right and drew an extra defender. In the short side corner stood rookie point guard Semaj Christon, who coolly knocked down a three-pointer.

“He always tell us, if you’re open, shoot the ball. I was open and let it go,” Christon said cheekily.

After that, the Thunder forced Denver into four turnovers and just 1-for-5 shooting, while Westbrook scored on a pair of driving layups and hit six free throws to make it 105-101 Denver with 47.4 seconds left. After Victor Oladipo drew a crucial charge in the lane, Westbrook told Donovan that there was enough time, even with just 29.8 seconds remaining, to get a two-for one. An intricate side-out-of-bounds play freed up Westbrook at the top of the key, and he flashed to the rim, getting a bucket while only 2.7 seconds slipped off the clock.

Thunder wins! Bud Light Photo of the Game

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“It was kind of a delayed play. We back screened for (Westbrook) to get the guy on the low side of him so he would have a clean run coming back out to the top,” Donovan reported. “He caught it and was able to drive it.”

One more defensive stop later, a tough rebound by Westbrook, and heads-up passes by Singler and Adams on the ensuing in-bound all set up Westbrook for his moment. Once again, he nailed it.

“There were a lot of contributing factors to the win tonight,” Donovan noted. “It was great to see our guys battle and compete the way they did.”

Thunder Highlights

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By the Numbers

+12 – Rebounding advantage for the Thunder on the night which aided a 20-4 edge in second chance points, thanks in part to 10 rebounds by Steven Adams

34:10 – Minutes played by Kyle Singler, who hadn’t been in the rotation recently, and yet still managed to score eight points and add four rebounds, three assists and three steals

42 – Triple-doubles on the season for Russell Westbrook, setting a new NBA record and breaking Oscar Robertson’s mark, which lasted 55 years

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The Last Word

“More and more we keep closing games the right way. We didn’t play as good as we wanted to but as a team we closed the game we wanted to.” – point guard Russell Westbrook