Russell Westbrook was one rebound shy of another triple-double as he scored 37 points, dished out 14 assists, and grabbed nine rebounds as he led the Thunder to a 122-112 win in Oklahoma City over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Thunder opened with a strong first quarter that featured the starters playing all but the last couple of minutes. Paul George scored 13 points, Steven Adams had eight points and six rebounds, and Westbrook put in six points, three assists, and three rebounds as Oklahoma City led by as many as seven early. After 12 minutes of play, however, the 76ers had inched their way closer, and the Thunder led 31-29.
The second quarter was a problem as Oklahoma City opened with an Adams plus the bench lineup. Raymond Felton scored five points in the first two minutes of the period, but defensively, the second unit struggled, and Philadelphia took over the lead 37-36 just three minutes in. Once the starters checked back in, Westbrook had a decent quarter as he put in eight more points, four rebounds, and two assists, but at halftime, Philadelphia held the 48-47 advantage over Oklahoma City.
The third quarter has been a make-or-break twelve minutes for the Thunder for much of the season, and tonight was no different. Dario Šarić scored eight points in the first three possessions for the Sixers, but Paul George and Carmelo Anthony were able to keep the Thunder close by scoring on the first three possessions for the Thunder as well. Philadelphia would maintain control of the lead, getting up by as many as seven, but the turnaround started with a layup by Russell Westbrook with 4:26 to go in the quarter. That was the start of a 16-4 run to end the third, and with just twelve minutes left to play, the Thunder led 92-83.
The all-bench unit started the fourth quarter, and in a matter of two-and-a-half minutes, the Sixers had cut a nine-point lead to just one. Philadelphia did everything in their power to keep it close, but as the starters began to trickle back into the game, the lead started to open back up. Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams scored 22 of Oklahoma City’s 30 points in the fourth quarter, and in the end, it was the Thunder who got the last laugh.
3 Quick Thoughts
- Defense Passes Test…For Now: Learning to play without Andre Roberson was the obvious concern coming into tonight’s game, and not just because of what he can do on the defensive side of the ball, but also because of what he allows the Thunder as a team to do defensively. The Philadelphia 76ers came into tonight averaging a little over 108 points per game, good for 7th in the NBA, and while it’s never a good thing to give up 112 points to an opposing team, Oklahoma City’s defense was actually pretty solid. The Thunder forced the Sixers 18 turnovers, and Paul George alone had four steals. Those 18 turnovers were turned into 25 points by Oklahoma City, and that made a big difference in the end. The Thunder’s offense is going to get points one way or another, so if the defense can maintain at least some of what they have been able to do so far this season, they can still win a lot of games moving forward.
- Who Is Going to Step Up? Andre Roberson was not an offensive machine for the Thunder this season, averaging just 5.0 points per game, but what he brought to the table was a lot of offensive opportunities. Forcing teams into turnovers creates more shots on the other end, and Oklahoma City has been really good in transition this season, scoring 14.2 points per game (4th in the NBA). Terrance Ferguson is starting in place of Roberson for now, but Josh Huestis, Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson, and Alex Abrines could all see an uptick in minutes, depending upon the matchup situation. Whoever it is that is attempting to fill in the gap, these role players are all going to have to step up like never before and try to bring that same intensity that Roberson was bringing every single game.
- Russ Is Playing Like an MVP: After playing the first month-and-a-half with some career-worst stats, Russell Westbrook has been playing the last month-and-a-half like everyone expected the reigning MVP to play. Since December 1st, the Thunder has gone 23-8, the second-best record in that time frame. During that time, Russell Westbrook has averaged 28.0 points while shooting 47% from the field, as well as 10.5 assists, 9.7 rebounds, and 1.9 steals. Those numbers bring his season averages to 25.7 points on 44.6% shooting, 10.1 assists, 9.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals per game. Westbrook may not be worthy of winning the MVP this year, especially because of the quality of play from some of the other superstars around the league, but he should definitely be getting some positive attention for his numbers, and how he has been a major reason for the Thunder’s season turnaround.
On the Road Again
The Thunder heads back out on the road to Washington D.C. where they will take on the Wizards on Tuesday night. The Thunder defeated the Wizards 121-112 just a few days ago in Oklahoma City. The game will tip at 6 PM and will be televised on FSOK. The game will also be broadcast on WWLS 98.1 FM.
Be sure to check out our latest episode of “Thunder Things with the Thunder Guys.”
Article written by Zack Low. Follow @TheThunderGuys on Twitter & Instagram, and like us on Facebook.