By Randy Renner
The Thunder’s “Big Three” came up huge for their team in the closing seconds of another thriller with the Orlando Magic last night.
First Russell Westbrook got a rebound and a bucket to tie the game at 114 and then Serge Ibaka blocked a shot at the other end, getting the ball to Dion Waiters who pitched it to Kevin Durant. Head coach Billy Donovan waived off a possible timeout deciding instead not to give the Magic time to set their defense. Durant then made a left to right crossover move on Orlando’s Aaron Gordon, something he’s been working on “since I was six years old,” and then launched a long-range dagger 3-ball that splashed home with half a second left killing the Magic’s hopes of an upset and sending another sellout crowd at The Peake into a frenzy.
“Billy trusts us and we definitely trust in him,” Westbrook said. “He read off of Kevin and we had numbers. It was a great call.”
“Without having a set up or giving them any time to think about the play, it caught them off guard and off balance a little bit,” Durant said.
"When you have the two players Billy has, you don't need a timeout," Orlando coach Scott Skiles said. "Just give them the ball and get out of the way."
That long three gave Durant 37 points on the night, Ibaka’s block that helped setup the play was his sixth of the game.
“Serge set (Oladipo) up for that block," Durant said. "That was a huge play. Russell made a huge play right before that, grabbing that rebound and then also making a layup. That set me up for the shot at the end. There's much more than just me making that shot."
Westbrook finished with a massive triple-double, his third straight and fifth in the last eight games. His numbers on the night, 24 points, 19 (!!!!) rebounds and 14 assists were the highest in those categories since Larry Bird posted a 28-19-15 night in 1982.
But for Russ, it was just another night at the office.
“I just try to go out and find a way to help us win,” Westbrook said. “Tonight coach emphasized helping the guys on rebounding. They’re a team that does a good job offensive rebounding and I tried to eliminate that by helping our bigs out, getting the ball and getting out on the break.”
Westbrook's 19 rebounds surpassed his previous career-high by four and are the most by a point guard since Jason Kidd had 19 on November 16, 2007, also against Orlando, according to STATS LLC. The last player with a primary career position of point guard to record 20 or more rebounds in a game was Fat Lever, who had 22 on April 20, 1990, against San Antonio.
When asked if there’s a particular method to his rebounding madness Westbrook said nope.
"I go get the ball, man, I don't have a method. I just try to work harder than the next guy and go out and compete at a high level every night. That's it."
Westbrook’s longtime teammates have kind of gotten used to Westbrook’s super-human feats but Donovan is still amazed by what he sees on the court from his All-Star point guard.
“The thing that stands out to me more than anything else is his will on 50-50 plays. There are some times where there is no scouting report,” Donovan said of Westbrook. “It’s his quickness, his drive, his perseverance and his toughness … He’s always engaged in the game. He has an incredible fire to him and an incredible competitiveness to him. He’s really a unique, unique player. His will to just chase it physically on every single possession is really remarkable.”
Of course the Thunder really should never have put themselves in the position to have to hit a last second shot to beat Orlando. The Magic came in scuffling around having lost 11 of their last 13 games.
But they have some talented players who tend to play well against OKC. Oladipo was on fire most of the night, finishing with 37 points on 13-for-19 shooting and Mario Herzonja hit four of his six 3-pointers. The Magic shot 49.5 percent overall and 43.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The Thunder were saved by the heroics of their heroes and by their usual dominating presence on the boards. OKC outrebounded Orlando 50-39 and 19 of those rebounds came off the offensive glass.
That’s how the Thunder have won a lot of their games, going 29-5 in games where they outrebound their opponent.
Despite the continued inconsistencies on defense you can’t argue with success and the Thunder are on a big time roll right now having now won five straight, 12 of 13 and 27 of 32.
That success coupled with what the Golden State Warriors have been doing all season sets up what looks to be a tremendous showdown game between the Thunder and Warriors in Oakland on Saturday night.