Thunder Reserves Step Up, Rally Behind Westbrook's Big Game

By: A. Suave Francisco

Steven Adams sat out for Oklahoma City after suffering a concussion in Philadelphia over the weekend and all hope was lost for OKC's frontcourt. 

That was until Dakari Johnson heard he was going to start in place of Adams. Johnson, Alex Abrines, and Andre Roberson were three of the more effective Thunder players in Monday night's minimal 95-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets. 

Although Johnson isn't known for being an elite scorer, or an offensive-minded player, he really stepped up and asserted himself early in the game. He scored six points in the opening minutes and finished with eight on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting for the game. More importantly, he slowed down Denver's Nikola Jokic, who only scored 13 points tonight on 5-of-9 shooting. This threw Denver's team chemistry off and although they had an electric third quarter with some consecutive three-pointers, they lacked an offensive rhythm seemingly throughout the contest. 

Alex Abrines was a hidden treasure for the Thunder, doing exactly what the Thunder expected of him by scoring 11 points on a perfect 3-of-3 from long distance. He was a spark for OKC early in the game. 

More importantly, Billy Donovan has made an adjustment that the Thunder faithful have wanted him to make for a very long time. Instead of Roberson looking stagnant on the perimeter, obviously avoiding his offensive game, he's been slashing back-and-fourth from perimeter-to-perimeter. With him doing that, he can be a threat and that showed tonight. Roberson scored 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting and he didn't shoot one ball from long-distance. His eight points are far more effective to the team when his shot selection is improved. In Roberson's case, the closer the shot is, the more lethal he can be. 

Obviously, the player of the game was Russell Westbrook who was the chief of his team in the victory after being down 10 points early in the fourth quarter. Westbrook scored 16 of his 38 points in the final quarter, shot an efficient 16-of-28 from the floor, and only shot the three-ball, three times. 

In a game where Paul George and Carmelo Anthony shot a combined 5-of-19 for 12 points, it was mandatory that someone other than Russell Westbrook step up tonight and that's what Johnson, Roberson, and Abrines did.

Oklahoma City gets back to .500 on the season with a (15-15) record through 30 games. They'll have a chance to get over that hump against the Utah Jazz (14-17) on Wednesday, once again at home. 

A. Suave FranciscoComment