Before Wednesday night’s game against the Houston Rockets, Russell Westbrook told Victor Oladipo that he was going to throw down a left-handed dunk at some point during the game. With 7.1 seconds remaining in the game, Westbrook hadn’t yet delivered on his promise, but a split second later boy did he ever.
Westbrook slipped away from his man down the sideline on a baseline out of bounds play. With the game in the balance with his team holding a precarious 103-100 lead, he corralled the inbounds pass, and drove middle. The All-Star point guard hung in the air and threw down an outrageous one-handed, lefty dunk over Houston’s 6-foot-10 center Clint Capela that sent Chesapeake Energy Arena into a frenzy.
“I don’t know where it came from, but the fact that he did it the very last play of the game is incredible. His memory is outstanding,” Oladipo deadpanned.
“I told Victor before the game that I would get a left-handed dunk. I didn’t know when. I guess save the best for last, right?”
The dunk sealed the Thunder’s 105-103 snapping a streak of four straight losses and putting the Thunder at 7-5 on the season. Against one of the NBA’s most dynamic offenses in the Rockets, Head Coach Billy Donovan’s club engaged in a shootout through the first half, when the teams combined for 128 points on 49-for-89 (55.1 percent) shooting.
The Thunder led by as many as 13 in the first quarter, after stout defense and crisp offense netted 38 points in the opening 12 minutes on 75 percent shooting. That included 10 from Victor Oladipo who finished the night with 29 points on 12-for-18 shooting (5-for-7 from three) along with 10 rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“As long as he comes out and plays aggressive and plays with good pace like he did tonight, everything will flow for him,” Westbrook said of Oladipo. “Tonight he made some big shots when we needed them.”
The Rockets clawed back due to its own three-point shooting prowess, knocking down 14 threes on the night and eventually taking an 11-point lead in the third quarter. The Thunder’s defense straightened up, however, in the fourth. In fact, Donovan’s group was so stingy that it held Houston to zero points over the final 6:27 of the game, until a meaningless three-pointer by Eric Gordon fell through the net with 0.9 seconds remaining.
“We made pretty good reads on our end with switches. We had each other’s back and made them take difficult shots and contested ones,” center Steven Adams said. “We got the ball under control a lot better, which allowed us to close out better.”
For the past week, the Thunder has been intent on sharpening its defense, and tonight showed that this team has the ability to put the clamps on some of the best scoring teams in the league when it plays with energy, communicates its coverages and scrambles to make second and third efforts. The question after the game was, can the Thunder replicate this type of defensive performance more often moving forward?
“100 percent,” Westbrook confidently answered. “When you play harder than the other team that can be sustainable. Make them shoot tough shots. Make it tough for those guys to get shots.”
“The longer the season goes, you have to be able to get stops on demand, especially on the road and even at home,” he continued. “Whenever you need stops, you have to be able to do it.”
Oladipo, Adams and Andre Roberson were instrumental to forcing Houston to shoot just 43.5 percent for the game, as the Rockets’ backcourt of James Harden and Eric Gordon combined for 9-for-36 (25 percent) shooting.
“We got into our coverages tonight,” Roberson said. “Our bigs did a great job of calling it tonight and everybody did it as a collective effort.”
“Andre has been doing an amazing job defensively all year long,” Westbrook praised. “He comes out, competes and guards the best players every night and does a great job of it.”
Highlights: Thunder vs. Rockets - Nov. 16, 2016
By the Numbers
6-for-21 – The Rockets shooting numbers in the fourth quarter, in addition to four turnovers thanks to the Thunder’s defense
7 – The number of steals and also the number of blocked shots for the Thunder tonight, including three blocks by Steven Adams
30 – Points for Russell Westbrook on the night, to go with nine assists and seven rebounds- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Last Word
“(The win) was huge for us and it was really important. This organization is known for winning. Losing is unacceptable. We have to do whatever it takes in our power to keep winning.” – guard Victor Oladipo