By Randy Renner
You could almost see Thunder fans start to squirm in their seats and hear them groan when Clippers sharpshooter J.J. Redick hit two straight 3s to slice a 19-point OKC lead down to 13 in the fourth quarter last night.
As you are surely aware fourth quarters have not been kind to the Thunder, 10 times this season they’ve lost games in which they held the lead going into the final 12 minutes.
Big leads, small leads, it hasn’t mattered and of course it was just a week ago the Thunder squandered a 17-point advantage against the Clippers in LA to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That fresh memory was another reason why Redick sent a chill through Chesapeake Energy Arena right about the time fans were thinking ‘surely it won’t happen again.’
Turns out it didn’t.
The Thunder changed up the ending to a movie their fans had already seen repeated too many times. Instead of a fourth quarter meltdown the Thunder became solid in their resolve to clip an LA run before another potential win got away.
"I thought it was growth," said Thunder superstar point guard Russell Westbrook. "I thought we did a good job of sticking together."
Westbrook did a good job on just about everything putting up a double-double in the first half and his 11th triple-double of the season by the end of the game and this triple was more special than most. Westbrook’s superstar teammate Kevin Durant said it was like watching a real-life version of “NBA 2K, rookie.”
Westbrook finished with 25 points, a career-high and Thunder franchise record 20 assists and 11 rebounds. It was the first time anyone had put together that kind of night since Magic Johnson did it in 1988 and on this night even that had a Westbrook connection.
"I was born in 1988," he cracked to reporters.
It also marked the first triple-double with at least 20 points and 20 assists since Rod Strickland did it for the Washington Wizards in 1998.
"That's unheard of," KD pointed out. "Words can't even describe it because it looks so effortless, easy and smooth in the game, and you don't even know what's going on."
It’s the 30th triple-double of Westbrook’s career, his second straight and third in his last five games. The Thunder are unbeaten this season (11-0) when Westbrook gets a triple-double, and are 26-4 in those 30 games when he’s had a triple D.
Special though it obviously was, Westbrook downplayed the individual moment, “Just a win, man," he shrugged to reporters in the lockerroom. "More important just to see all my teammates happy and see all my teammates enjoy the game and enjoy this win. That's the most important part for me, is just making sure everybody feels comfortable about their game."
Speaking of comfortable, Durant had another great game too with 30 points and 12 rebounds, the fourth straight contest he’s recorded at least 30 and 10. Serge Ibaka added 15 points and Enes Kanter chipped in 14 for Oklahoma City.
The game was not without warts. The Thunder allowed the Clippers to shoot 50.6 percent while seeing former teammate Jeff Green break out of a slump to score 23 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
But still head coach Billy Donovan declared it, “a step in the right direction.”
And as much as the Thunder have struggled lately in the fourth quarter, a step without a stumble looks pretty good.