Coming off of two consecutive terrible losses, Oklahoma City felt like it desperately needed a win as the Thunder hosted the Milwaukee Bucks tonight in what would prove to be a historical evening. The game started off fairly even on both sides as the Thunder led the Bucks 18-16 with 2:03 left in the first quarter. This is typically the point in the game when Russell Westbrook and the other starters are subbed out, and the bench comes in and starts to falter. Tonight was a different story, however. Oklahoma City’s second unit sparked a run which helped the Thunder to a 28-20 lead to end the first quarter, but the streak did not end there. Enes Kanter, Alex Abrines, and Semaj Christon continued to pour on the points as Oklahoma City extended their lead to as many as 16 with 8:43 left in the first half before the starters began to come back in. The Thunder would not let up as they entered halftime with an impressive 63-39 lead, one of their largest halftime leads of the season.
The third quarter has been a struggle for Oklahoma City throughout the season, but there was no letdown tonight. The Thunder continued to put on an impressive display as they finished the third period with an 89-59 lead. In the fourth, Oklahoma City took their largest lead of the night at 39 with 8:34 to go. The starters got some rest, and the bench played some solid minutes as the Thunder picked up their 44th win of the season 110-79.
Russ Makes Hist0ry
With five games to spare, Russell Westbrook nabbed his 41st triple-double this season to tie Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in a single season. While Westbrook grabbing a triple-double tonight was not unsurprising to Thunder fans, what is definitely impressive is how quickly he did it. With 9:23 left in the third quarter, Westbrook grabbed his 10th rebound and with 9:17 left to go in the third dished the ball to Taj Gibson for a bucket to get his 10th assist.
The crowd responded with an ovation with as much enthusiasm as could be expected, and it was about as loud as has ever been heard at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Not only did Westbrook tie Oscar Robertson’s record, but he tied his own personal record of 7 triple-doubles in a row, which puts him 2 shy of the all-time streak holder Wilt Chamberlain, who recorded 9 consecutive triple-doubles in in the 1967-68 season. Westbrook will have a chance to continue his streak tomorrow as the Thunder take on the Grizzlies in Memphis.
With only five games remaining, Westbrook will undoubtedly stand alone as the single-season triple-double record holder, but he may actually surpass it by more than just one or two. In 11 opportunities against the Thunder’s remaining opponents, Russell Westbrook has recorded 8 triple-doubles this season, so it is not farfetched to believed that he could finish the season with 46 triple-doubles and a 12-game triple-double streak.
Regardless of what his total or streak ends up at, one thing remains true: when Westbrook gets a triple-double, the Thunder are likely going to get a win. With tonight’s victory, the Thunder moved to 32-9 when Russ gets a triple-double, as opposed to 12-24 when he does not.
Backup Arrives Just in Time
Oklahoma City has struggled lately, due mostly to the poor play from the second unit. Statistics clearly show that whenever Russell Westbrook heads to the bench, the Thunder struggles mightily to compete against any level of opponent. That was not the case tonight.
After multiple games of very few production from the bench, the Thunder second unit showed up in a big way by scoring 65 points as many of them saw extended minutes late in the game.
One detail that is especially eye-popping is the fact that the bench success came from a number of different players. 5 bench players scored at least 9 points, and as a whole, the second unit shot an impressive 51.1% from the floor. If the Oklahoma City backups are able to get into some type of groove and produce any type of consistent scoring headed into the playoffs, the Thunder will be in a good spot.
Roberson’s Defense Continues to Impress
Despite not showing up in an incredible way in the box score, Andre Roberson had a solid night. In 27 minutes, Roberson only scored 4 points on 2/6 shooting to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists, but he also managed to tally 3 steals and 3 blocks. While Roberson often goes unnoticed or perhaps unappreciated, his consistent ability to lockdown opponents has helped the Thunder in a number of different ways. Tonight was no different as he created issues for the Bucks early in the game, which was a primary reason the Thunder were able to jump out to a lead early on.
Despite facing consistent criticism, Andre Roberson has certainly earned the right to have his name put into the conversation when discussing NBA’s All-Defense team. Without Dre’s ability to shutdown opposing star players, Oklahoma City would undoubtedly struggle even more than they have this season.
Back to Memphis
The Oklahoma City Thunder will head out on the road where they will play four of their final five games on the road. The first stop for the Thunder is in Memphis, where they will play the Grizzlies tomorrow night. Oklahoma City has won 2 of the 3 meetings with the Grizz this season, dropping the only other matchup in Memphis back in December. Oklahoma City has faltered a bit here at the end of the season, losing 4 in a row at the beginning of March, but they somehow have managed to pull out wins when needed as they have won 9 of the last 13. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies struggled at times in the month of March due to some streaky play. Memphis started March off with a 5-game losing streak before winning 4 games in a row, only to go on another 4-game losing streak. Overall, the Grizzlies finished March with a 9-6 record, but they have lost 2 in a row to start April, so the Thunder will look to push that to 3. Tip-off is set for 7 PM, and the game will be televised on FSOK. It will also be broadcast on the radio at WWLS 98.1 FM.
Article written Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter and Instagram.