Grind Time: Thunder Snaps Skid by Digging Deep – OKC 99, MEM 95

It was a total slog. Passes flew out of bounds, dribbled plunked off of shins and shots missed in every direction - wide, short and long. Getting out of a losing skid isn’t easy when shots aren’t falling, so the Thunder used its defense instead. Down 13 in the fourth quarter, the Thunder sling-shotted ahead by holding the Memphis Grizzlies to 0-for-13 shooting from the field over a 7-and-half minute stretch towards the end of the game and gave itself a chance in crunch time. 

That’s when Russell Westbrook stepped up and delivered the offensive break through. Down 93-90, Westbrook stood on the left wing an took a jump pass from Dennis Schröder and rose up to fire a three-pointer. Up to that point, he was 3-for-12 from behind the arc, but his confidence never wavered. Westbrook drained the three-pointer and forced a Memphis timeout with 1:04 remaining.

“Just trying to stay cool,” Westbrook said after the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma. “I’ve been in different moments in different times in my career. Just lock down and make shots.”

After the stoppage and another defensive stand, Westbrook pulled around a Steven Adams screen and again firmly pulled up for a jump shot that hadn’t been going down much all night. Westbrook’s 19-footer was true all the way and the Thunder had a 97-95 lead, shockingly it’s largest of the game up until that point. 

“Just reading it,” Westbrook explained. “I just gotta use (the screen) and that’s what I live and die by.”

After that it came down to putting together the stops and then knocking down free throws, neither of which came easily to the Thunder all night. Through the first three quarters the Thunder was just 11-of-18 from the free throw line, but in the fourth the Thunder knocked down 13-of-15 foul shots, including six straight to end the game. Two came from Westbrook, two from Schröder, and two from Terrance Ferguson to close out a hard-fought 99-95 victory.

“It’s always good just to get a win, regardless of the situation,” said Adams.

Westbrook was far from perfect in the game, but in the fourth quarter he was stellar, racking up 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting, including two made three-pointers, in just 8:32 of action, with zero turnovers. Before his heroics in the final period, Westbrook was aided by Adams, who put together his third-straight double-double with 13 points and 22 rebounds, including 8 on the offensive end. Abdel Nader stepped up off the bench, leading the Thunder in scoring in the first half and putting up 15 points total behind 3 made three-pointers.

“Steven was real good tonight on both sides of the ball, rebounding the basketball, being strong and aggressive,” said Westbrook. “It was big for us.”

“(Nader) did a good job of being aggressive, making shots, finding ways to get us in the penalty, doing the right things,” Westbrook added.

All night long the Thunder turned defensive stops into transition opportunities, scoring 24 points on the fast break for the game, including 7 in the fourth quarter on perfect 3-for-3 shooting. The fourth as a whole was a complete departure from the rest of the game, as the Thunder topped 30 points in a period for the only time all night, outscoring Memphis 32-20 over the 12 minutes. The Thunder shot 45.8 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Grizzlies by 6 in the period, and on the other end of the floor held Memphis to 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) shooting, including 1-of-8 from the three-point line in addition to five turnovers.

“Just guys locking in defensively. We did a great job of using our hands and bodies and got stops when we needed to,” said Westbrook. “We did a good job of sticking with it. Tough shooting night, but defensively we did a good job.”

This was the third straight game the Thunder played without Paul George, who is nursing a sore right shoulder, and early on it was clear that George’s punch was missing. Still the Thunder battled and persevered, managing to win a game despite shooting just 35.5 percent from the field. Instead the Thunder won with grit, outrebounding the Grizzlies by 9, forcing 22 turnovers and taking 14 more field goal attempts.

With a four-game road swing coming up after this second night of a back-to-back at Chesapeake Energy Arena, this game was a vital one for the Thunder to win. Now 39-24 and holding serve in the third spot in the Western Conference, the Thunder must go to Minnesota to take on the Timberwolves before moving on to Portland, Los Angeles to play the Clippers and then to Utah in a Northwest Division-heavy road slate.

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