By Addam Francisco
Tuesday night featured a highly anticipated game between two Western Conference rivals. Even though the Houston Rockets were (35-35) coming into the game, that didn't stop them from making this a competition in Oklahoma City. There are a few things to complain about when describing Oklahoma City's game but at the end of the day they won 111-107, and Russell Westbrook had another triple-double.
Despite a tragic shooting night for Russell (through three quarters), all is well... Dion Waiters pretty much made up for his teammates tragic shooting night by performing well above his season average, finishing with 17 points off 7-of-11 shooting as well as 3-of-6 from three. For some reason though, head coach Billy Donovan didn't have Waiters in the game until the final 30 seconds of the game, and in those 30 seconds he managed to make the biggest defensive play of the game when he deflected a pass from James Harden to Dwight Howard in the final few seconds of the game.
At a certain point in the third quarter Dion looked like he was trying to take the game over and he was making a pretty nice argument after hitting two straight big shots and reciprocating that energy on the defensive end. Another guy who brought great energy throughout the game was Cameron Payne, he doesn't have the box score to back it up, but he did a great job getting his teammates involved. Payne also started the 13-2 run that got the Thunder back on the high side late in the first quarter after a pretty slow start to the game, which is why it's weird that he only played 11 minutes overall. Cam finished the game with 5 points, with his +/- being the second highest on the team. Speaking of that, every bench player that played tonight had an even or positive +/- and only one starter (Kevin Durant). The four other starters including Russell, had a negative in that category with Andre Roberson being the lowest at -14.
The story of the game is of course Westbrook's triple-double. His 21 points 15 assists and 13 rebounds marks his 15th of the season and third in a row, which ties Michael Jordan for the third most in the past 30 years, now behind only Fat Lever who has 16 and Magic Johnson who has 17. Let's just assume at this rate, with 11 games left in the regular season, Russell will be at the top of that list. Many people wonder how Russell continues to get these triple-doubles and how he gets them so quickly. Well, his activeness on the offensive and defensive end is the answer. If you isolate your view during a game on Russell for two or three straight possessions you will see how he's literally all over the place. Most times as soon as the ball goes up, whether he's on defense or offense you can find him somewhere around the basket waiting for the ball to reach his hands so that he can push the ball up the court at his own pace often times. He trusts most of his teammates on the floor with him so that when he finds even the slightest opening in the defense, he jets the ball through to a teammate. When he's the biggest offensive scoring threat on the floor, he knows what to do...score. Russell is becoming more and more of a complete player every season, and this year it seems like he's taking his game to yet another level, Oklahoma City is witnessing individual greatness every single game it seems like, but in a lot of cases don't realize it, or take it for granted.
After winning five straight games, the Thunder are now (49-22) on the season, with the (34-36) Utah Jazz coming to town on Thursday. Expect that game to be a lot like this game energy wise, because Utah is just a half game behind Houston for that eighth and final spot in the NBA playoffs. Houston now falls to (35-36) on the season.