Clutch Russ Leads Thunder Past Celtics
By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook continues to statistically shove his way into the company of Hall of Famers and last night in the Thunder’s 117-112 win in Boston he showed again why he will one day join those legends in The Hall.
He recorded his 14th triple-double of the season and his third straight 40-10 game with 45 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. He becomes just the eighth player in NBA history to have three straight games of at least 40 points and 10 rebounds joining Hall of Famers George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Rick Barry, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bob McAdoo, and Moses Malone.
While the streak and the triple-double added more flash to an already sizzling season for Westbrook it was what he did in the 4th quarter that got OKC its 18th win of the season.
Westbrook put the Thunder on his back in the final 12 minutes scoring 20 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field, including a couple of clutch dagger threes, while also going 8-for-10 from the free throw line.
“It’s important for me to know how to close games,” he told reporters in the locker room at TD Garden. “I think the best players figure out how to close games. I watch film and figure out the best way to close games for my team.”
Friday night he did it in a variety of ways, making more baskets, more 3-pointers and more free throws than any of his teammates while also grabbing more rebounds. And in a 4th quarter that saw the Celtics outscore the Thunder 33-29 behind 18 points from Isaiah Thomas, the Thunder needed everything Westbrook gave.
“I only know how to play one way,” Westbrook said. “Isaiah was playing well but I don’t need fuel from nobody, no other player to get me going.”
Extra motivation from Thomas or not, it was Westbrook who kept answering his point guard counterpart. His 27-foot 3-pointer right after a Thomas miss from deep put the Thunder up by six with 1:13 to go.
Then after Thomas hit a free throw to complete a conventional 3-point play to bring the Celtics back within three it was Westbrook who fired in a dagger from 28 feet a few seconds later to get the margin back to six.
And then Russ closed the door on any hope Boston had by going 4-for-4 on free throws in the closing seconds.
“The two threes late were big for us but also very hard shots too,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said “He was balanced, felt good about them and it was good to see him knock them down. And Russell was really efficient. That’s the thing we talk about, He didn’t take a lot of shots but the shots he took he made and he took good ones. He obviously had some tough ones he made and he got to the free throw line.”
Thunder rookie Domas Sabonis also had a big night, scoring a career-high 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting overall and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Enes Kanter came through with a 20 point game too making the first time this season OKC has had three players score at least 20 points.
The biggest downer on the night was again something that’s been a problem all season, free throw shooting. Though Westbrook was a stellar 14-for-16 at the stripe the rest of the team was a dismal 10-for-20.
Andre Roberson was 1-for-6 at the line and has gotten so bad the Celtics employed a “hack-a-Dre” strategy. Roberson has made just 29.5 percent of his free throws this season and Oklahoma City, for years one of (if not the best) free throw shooting team in the league is now one of the worst at 72.1 percent.
But right now the Thunder are more than happy to head into a Christmas Night home game against Minnesota having won two straight on the road.