Westbrook’s Three-Pointer Caps a Masterful Offensive Finish – OKC 120, ATL 117

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

Just like he had on offense all night, Russell Westbrook picked out the matchup he wanted, then got to his spot and made a play.

The Thunder had the ball with 11.1 seconds left in a tie ball game with the Atlanta Hawks, and after Westbrook forced a switch, he dribbled into a right wing three-pointer that splashed through the net with 1.7 seconds remaining. It wasn’t enough time for Atlanta - with no timeouts - to respond and the Thunder got the front of its back-to-back started off the right way with a 120-117 heart-pounding win.

“It’s just getting to the spot and knocking down the shot,” Westbrook said after the game on Fox Sports Oklahoma.

“It’s great, man. We put ourselves in position to win a basketball game on the last shot, and it went down,” Westbrook added later in the locker room.

Throughout the previous 47 minutes and change, Westbrook was the conductor of the Thunder offense. He was hyper-efficient shooting it on his own, scoring 30 points on 12-for-17 from the field. But it was the way he got teammates involved with 15 assists that kept the entire unit humming all night.

Offense has been a struggle for the Thunder because shots weren’t falling, the team wasn’t getting to the free throw line and the group was creating inefficient looks. Tonight didn’t feature any of those problems, for the most part. The team shot 53.7 percent from the field including 13-for-25 (52 percent) from the three-point line.

Besides Westbrook, the man who most electrified the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena was Carmelo Anthony, who came up two shy of a career-high with 7 made three-pointers on 12 attempts. Working in pick-and-pops with Westbrook and spotting up in transition or off second chances, Anthony poured in an absolutely vital 24 points while playing off of his teammates for catch-and-shoot opportunities.

“I’m just trying to make sure he’s staying aggressive,” Westbrook said on FSO about creating looks for Anthony. “He’s an unbelievable scorer, one of the best scorers this league has ever seen. Our job is to make sure we give him the basketball in scoring position.”

“These are the type of shots I’m going to get. This is the type of offense that we’re going to be running, and (I’m) accepting that and working on that role,” Anthony added. “That’s something I’ve been kind of been doing over the past week, just allowing myself to accept that role and do whatever I gotta do to help this team.”

The reason this one was close tonight was a lingering free throw accuracy issue for the Thunder, an uncharacteristic turnover problem in the first three quarters and the team’s number one rated defense giving up 51.8 percent shooting, including a 15-for-32 (46.9 percent) mark from behind the arc. Atlanta’s offense was relentless in attacking the rim, and Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova and Malcolm Delaney combined to hit 13 three-pointers on 21 attempts, many of them tough, contested or on the move.

The Thunder missed 12 free throws and turned it over 19 times on the night, which eliminated a potential cushion that could have prevented Atlanta’s third quarter charge, which eventually led to a 4-point fourth quarter lead with 8:49 remaining. That’s when Russell Westbrook checked back in, on the heels of the Thunder’s 18th and 19th turnovers on back-to-back possessions prior to a Donovan timeout.

“We got stale a little bit towards the end of that third quarter. The fourth quarter, Russ came back in, picked up the pace and we followed that lead,” Anthony described.

Westbrook immediately jumpstarted the Thunder’s engine helping the group reel off a 9-1 burst behind a driving three-point play, a pitch ahead pass to Jerami Grant on an early transition post up, and then four straight free throws by Patrick Patterson and Westbrook, on attacks to the paint. After the reigning MVP re-entered the game, everything settled down on offense. The Thunder didn’t turn it over, went 11-for-13 from three-point range and scored points on 15 of its final 17 possessions.

“For us, we feel confidence down the stretch. We feel good down the stretch that we’re going to make the right plays and we’re going to get a basket,” forward Paul George (17 points, 3 steals) said. “We know, now, how to close and where we’re going to to close.”

The Hawks didn’t go away quietly, despite the Thunder’s blistering offense to close the game. The Thunder led by 8 with 4:21 to go, and then by 4 at the 3:09 mark, the 1:52 mark, the 1:15 mark and with 43.9 seconds left in regulation, but each time Atlanta had an answer. One shot seemed more challenging than the next, as Belinelli and Ilyasova hit tightly contested three’s while not completely set, Kent Bazemore dribbled into a three and Ilyasova was awarded two free throws while falling out of bounds in an attempt to put back a Belinelli miss over the back of Anthony who was in perfect box out position.

“We had to live with those shots they were making,” Anthony noted. “Those were tough shots.”

Ilyasova knocked down both free throws to tie the game. Donovan called timeout to set up a play, with George inbounding the ball to Westbrook, hesitating for a second and then sprinting across the face of Westbrook’s defender. That caused a moment of hesitation for the Hawks defense, which froze momentarily before switching, giving Westbrook the airspace to take a rhythm dribble, and rain down the game-winning jumper.

“We knew we could kind of mess them up with the play that we had and cause some confusion,” George explained. “They backed off, Russ had an easy open opportunity and Russ is as good as anybody when it’s closing time.”

Thunder vs. Hawks Highlights:

By the Numbers

24 – Combined points for Steven Adams (16) and Andre Roberson (8) in addition to their 19 combined rebounds

33 – Points allowed by the Thunder off of 19 turnovers, compared to 23 points scored by the Thunder off 17 Hawks giveaways

40-27 – The Thunder’s rebounding advantage on the night, which included 15 offensive rebounds that led to 23 second chance points

The Last Word

“We just stuck with it. We ran our offense at the end. We stuck with our defense. We executed what we had to execute and we made plays when it counted.” – forward Carmelo Anthony