By Randy Renner
It's been quite a last couple of days for Thunder All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook who has been playing like a potential league MVP lately.
On Monday he recorded a triple-double with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists in leading his team to a win over Orlando. Last night he took over another game tying his career-high with 45 points and adding six rebounds and six assists in leading the Thunder to a key win over New Orleans 102-91.
The victory moved the Thunder to just a game behind the Pelicans for ninth place in the Western Conference and just two-and-a-half games behind Phoenix for the eighth spot.
“Russell is as competitive as I’ve seen (from) any player I’ve been around,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “His will to win is at a high level, and his will to prepare to win is at a high level. That’s what makes him a great player. He obviously has the talent and the skill base. But his heart and his desire to win and win every possession is what makes him great.”
Westbrook just kinda shrugged his shoulders after the game, like it was just another day at the office.
“Just trying to find a way to keep us in the game,” Westbrook said. “Try to find a way to get us a win. It was a must-win for us coming into their building. That was my only thing.”
He set the tone early scoring 19 first quarter points on 8-for-10 shooting as the Thunder put their foot on the gas to kick-start the game and make sure the Thunder got off to a good start and then hopefully a strong finish.
“That was definitely our mindset coming into tonight,” Westbrook said. “From this morning’s shootaround we knew the next two games would be playoff-type games for us. And that’s the mindset we came with tonight.”
They got the great finish too, shutting out New Orleans over the last almost six minutes of the game and outscoring the Pelicans 13-0.
“I thought we did a great job of making them take tough shots,” Westbrook said. “I think we did a great job of contesting, blocking shots, rebounding as a unit and we stuck together. Throughout the game there were some ups and downs. But I thought we did a good job as a team of sticking together and coming out with the win.”
I thought Russell just had his way with us tonight, whether it was coming off screens or knocking down shots," Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. "We did not have an answer for him."
Not even All-Star forward Anthony Davis could give New Orleans much of a spark. Though Davis finished with 23 points and eight rebounds, he didn't dominate down the stretch like he has during the Pelicans recent run.
That was largely due to Serge Ibaka, whose 13 points all came in the second half and whose six rebounds and seven blocks helped seal the inside for the Thunder.
Oklahoma City outscored New Orleans in the paint 66-46 and held New Orleans to just 38.5 percent shooting, including 14 of 46 in the second half.
"We got down, I think it was 11 at one point, and we didn't get thrown apart," Brooks said. "We still stuck together and figured out ways to get stops and score in transition off of those stops. That is how we win."
Even more impressive the Pelicans were coming off a huge win over the Atlanta Hawks that stopped Atlanta's 19-game winning streak and the Thunder were again playing without superstar forward Kevin Durant who missed another game with that sprained big toe.
Durant may very well miss Friday's game too when the Pelicans come to Oklahoma City for another big game.
The Thunder need to win that one too to feel like maybe they've finally been able to find the consistency that's been lacking this season. Wednesday's win won't mean as much without another one on Friday, especially with the Clippers coming in here on Sunday.
If they can get the win Friday the Thunder will tie the Pelicans for ninth place in the West and creep a little closer to the Suns and eighth place.