Westbrook Gets Downhill, Thunder Closes Out Dramatic Win – OKC 132, TOR 125

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

TORONTO – Now that was a fun game. It doesn’t count for extra in the standings either way, but Sunday afternoon’s thriller between the Thunder and Toronto Raptors might have been the purest fun that Oklahoma City fans have been treated to all year long.

Try as they might, neither defense could cool off a pair of incredibly hot shooting squads as the Thunder and Raptors traded runs and swapped outrageously difficult made shots throughout the afternoon. The first half was a roller coaster. The second half, a steady buzz of anxiety as the lead swapped hands 25 total times in the game, with 20 lead changes.

In a game like that, it’s always good to have the NBA’s most competitive, most relentless closer. Russell Westbrook took over down the stretch for the Thunder by scoring 17 of the team’s 19 points to close out the win, including a banked in jump shot from the left wing over Serge Ibaka with 11.7 seconds to go that made it a 4-point game. Prior to that, Westbrook continually attacked and got to his left hand, finishing with three layups going that direction in the final 3:18 of play after Toronto’s Kyle Lowry fouled out.

“They were trying to shade me one way. That’s fine,” said Westbrook, who finished with a sensational 37-point, 14-assist, 13-rebound triple-double. “It doesn’t really matter which way I go. So whichever way, I just take what the defense gives me.”

“Russ did a good job of seeing how those guys was guarding him,” forward Carmelo Anthony reviewed. “They were staying home on myself at the three. They were staying home on Paul (George). When that happens, something is open and Russ took advantage of that.”

Westbrook helped lead the Thunder to a blistering-hot start in the great white north, making 9-of-10 field goals to start the game. Westbrook continually worked with Steven Adams in the pick and roll, finding his big man for layups and dunks at the rim by baiting Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas into committing to stopping the drive before dropping the ball off to Adams. With 14 points on in the first quarter, Adams established a presence right away, which helped open up offense for everyone.

“(Russ) did a good job of snaking and probing, just keeping the dribble alive, allowing me to get back in front of the ball,” said Adams, who finished with 25 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 1 steal. “Then it’s real tough, because it’s two-on-one from there.”

“(Adams) does so many things and that’s a part of his game obviously that people overlook because of all the other great things he does,” Westbrook said. “His success rate is very, very high when he gets the ball where he wants and he can get to any spot, move anybody. I’m just lucky and happy he’s on our team.”

Despite a 40-point first quarter, the Thunder was unable to separate enough from Toronto before its vaunted second unit checked into the game. The Raptors reserves countered a Thunder run late in the first quarter with a 23-4 burst to begin the second quarter. The Thunder’s own bench group struggled to get good offense and couldn’t stop Toronto from getting downhill, playing behind the ball on drives and arriving late on rotations.

When Donovan re-inserted the starting group midway through the second quarter, everything stabilized back into equilibrium. A 13-3 run generated largely at the free throw line helped the Thunder get back in front heading into halftime.

In the third and fourth quarters, this game was played entirely within a 10-point window, not including the final 11 seconds when a slew of technical fouls buffered the final margin. It was really an evenly played game for most of the second half, as the Raptors starters performed better than they had in the first half, and the Thunder’s reserves bounced back and held their ground against Toronto’s bench.

Donovan opted to go with Alex Abrines with that reserve group and the Spaniard rewarded him with a pair of three-pointers that helped the Thunder keep the scoreboard moving, and eliminate another Raptors bench run. Holding down the fort allowed the starters to re-enter with the game even. For a veteran group of Westbrook, George, Anthony, Adams and Corey Brewer the final minutes aren’t foreign territory, and everyone made a play when needed. Above all, that was the crucial element tonight: the poise and composure the Thunder exuded throughout the game.

“This was definitely a playoff atmosphere type of game,” Anthony said. “It’s something that we needed to be a part of coming down the stretch.”

“We just stayed connected regardless of how the game was flowing,” George said. “We just stayed in the moment.”

Westbrook’s scoring barrage was augmented by a late Anthony steal, a crucial defensive rebound by Adams and then perhaps the defensive play of the game, when George made up for a turnover on offense by harassing DeMar DeRozan as he dribbled up the court. Brewer saw it and scrambled to trap, made a steal and pitched the ball to George, who was fouled at the rim.

“You just try to make it difficult on him, speed him up,” George explained. “Corey did a great job of seeing that. He made a play on the ball and we were able to get a turnover.”

Those two free throws gave the Thunder a two-point lead at 125-123, and set up Westbrook’s back-to-back baskets that sealed the victory.

Highlights: Thunder at Raptors

By the Numbers

5 – Consecutive triple-doubles for Russell Westbrook, making it number 23 on the season and 102 in his career

19 – Place for Carmelo Anthony on the all-time scoring list, as he passed Reggie Miller with a 15-point performance

109 - Points for the Thunder starters on the afternoon, on a combined 41-for-67 (61.2 percent) shooting

The Last Word

“You gotta be able to keep your composure through it all. That’s what the game was all about. We have a lot of veteran guys on this team that’s able to do that.” – point guard Russell Westbrook


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