Point Guards Provide the Spark, Thunder Erupts in 4th – OKC 105, MIA 99
By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | firstname.lastname@example.org
As Carmelo Anthony says, there are some guys who say they want it in crunch time, and guys who actually want it. Russell Westbrook is the latter.
After shooting just 3-for-8 in the first three quarters, Westbrook checked back in with 8:43 to go in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat and proceeded to score 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting while adding 3 rebounds and 3 assists. With the Thunder leading just 74-71 when Westbrook returned, the Thunder point guard hit one of his patented elbow jumpers, really with no prior rhythm.
“That’s just him,” center Steven Adams said of Westbrook. “He stays in the moment, mate.”
“It’s new to me, a guy at his level who is always ready for the moment and can just sense how and when to really take charge,” forward Paul George added. “He’s just one of the most explosive and unique players I’ve ever played with.”
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 24, 2018
Westbrook then created a push-ahead corner three-pointer for Alex Abrines, and Adams made an incredible swing pass from the middle of the lane into the corner for a Corey Brewer corner three a few possessions later. Westbrook hit another long jumper before finding Adams on a breathtaking roll to the rim. The pass hit Adams on the move, in stride, and the Thunder big man finished without stopping to gather himself, through a foul.
“It’s very rare, especially a guy with his size with hands like he has and the ability to run the floor and catch and finish,” Westbrook said of the big Kiwi. He’s a great tool for me. I’m just honored and thankful he’s on our team. He plays extremely hard and my job is to make sure I feed him.”
That bucket was a part of Adams’ 24-point, 12-rebound performance, as Westbrook utilized his big man all game long to generate high percentage offense while the Thunder struggled to shoot the ball. Adams missed the free throw after that rolling bucket, but Paul George corralled the rebound and dished to Westbrook, who Euro-stepped his way to the rim for a layup. As Westbrook imitated the move as an on-court instant replay going back up court, Miami was forced to call a timeout.
“It doesn’t happen too often so you gotta make sure to show you exactly what happened so you don’t miss it,” Westbrook said a smile creeping over his face.
That burst to make it 91-84 with 4:08 to go didn’t finish Miami, an Eastern Conference playoff squad, for good. In fact with 1:04 to go, the Thunder led just 97-95. Westbrook went left around an Adams screen and instead of taking the shot himself, dropped it off to Adams for a massive dunk to create separation, which George opened wider with an uncanny steal on Miami’s ensuing side out of bounds play. It was a play that only George, an NBA Defensive Player of the Year candidate, could make.
“I just felt like tonight it was the least I could do, to add my contribution to the team,” George shrugged self-deprecatingly, in reference to his 3-for-16 shooting night. “I tried to make a play right there.”
The Thunder forward, who had a rough shooting night, finished with a transition three-point play that sealed the deal, and resulted in a 105-99 Thunder victory. Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club, after shooting just 34.4 percent through three quarters, went 15-for-23 (65.2 percent) in the fourth and scored 41 points.
Westbrook, who finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and 8 assists, carried the torch down the stretch, but he actually had it handed to him by his fellow floor general, Raymond Felton. As a part of a 30-point effort by the ever-more-reliable bench unit, Felton scored 8 of his 10 points by knocking down a three-pointer, a pull-up shot in the lane and an and-one driving layup over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter to turn a five-point deficit into that 74-71 Thunder lead, which is when Westbrook checked back in.
“Ray did a great job of being aggressive,” Westbrook said. “It was a big three-point play that changed the momentum and helped us get over the hump.”
“We all feed off of each other,” Felton added.
The steadying presence all night for the Thunder certainly wasn’t the volatile offense, but rather a focused, communicative defense that for the most part handled Miami’s funky, dribble-hand-off, five-out offense quite well.
The Heat employ ball-handlers at all five positions for most of the game, and run its three-point shooting guards off chaotic screening actions out top relentlessly. Miami knocked down 13-of-30 three-pointers, but managed just 39.1 percent shooting from the floor in the game, and just 17-of-43 (39.5 percent) shooting in the paint.
“It was just like the same action over and over again. We know that, but it’s still difficult to actually defend it,” Adams explained. “What we had planned, we tried to execute as well as we can.”
“Communication,” George said was the key, in a word. “We understood how well they execute and how good they are with screening action and guard-to-guard screening… We came out tonight and were engaged and ready for that early on.”
Highlights: Thunder vs. Heat
By the Numbers
9-for-13 – Shooting numbers for Steven Adams in the game, who scored 24 points to go with 12 rebounds
17 – Points for Russell Westbrook on 6-of-7 shooting in the fourth quarter alone
46-34 – The Thunder’s edge in points in the paint for the game, aided by 18 fast break points
The Last Word
“It’s just all of us trusting each other. We doing a great job playing together. When we get out there, we’re taking advantage of our minutes and trying to give the team a spark whenever we can and just doing our job.” – point guard Raymond Felton
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 24, 2018