Russ Looks Like Russ, Doing What He Does
By: A. Suave Francisco
Oklahoma City entered Wednesday night's matchup against the Utah Jazz knowing that two of Utah's best players, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, wouldn't be playing.
Unfortunately, many times OKC faces short-handed teams, they underachieve in monumental fashion, en route to an uncomfortably close win, or demoralizing loss. That wasn't the case this time as they completely dominated Utah 107-78.
Russell Westbrook had other plans for his team to start the game. From the tip, he was in 2016-2017 MVP mode, attacking Utah's anemic defense every opportunity he had. By the time you could blink, he was 4-of-4 from the field with eight points. Westbrook even showed flashes of being an elite defender with two of his four first-half steals in the first three minutes of the game that resulted in four fast-break points for the Thunder.
An experienced Westbrook knew what he needed to do. He finished the first quarter a perfect 6-of-6 from the field with 14 points, which was more than Utah scored (9). As a matter of fact, Russell's shot didn't bounce off the rim until the 7-minute mark of the second quarter. Westbrook went into halftime with 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, and everyone assumed this would be one of those games that he explodes for 40 or more points.
Westbrook switched it up, though. Noticing that players were starting to shift their focus exclusively to him, neglecting players like Geroge, Anthony and Jerami Grant, Westbrook found a way to get them more involved in the third quarter. That's what broke the contest into a scoring frenzy for his teammates.
By halftime, George and Anthony only scored 14 combined points on 4-of-14 shooting. They weren't getting as many open looks and they were playing passively. A halftime discussion led to major adjustments and a shift in the offense. Westbrook only shot two more times in the game and didn't play in the fourth quarter. Subsequently, George and Anthony combined for 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the second half and Westbrook assisted on four of those six baskets.
OKC hasn't been over a .500 record for 23 games. The last time they had a winning record was at the start of the season when they were (4-3). With a game against a struggling (7-24) Atlanta Hawks team scheduled for Friday and a road game against the now (14-18) Utah Jazz on Saturday, the Thunder have a prime chance to get back on track and make up ground in the Western Conference.
With this win, they are tied for fifth in the Western Conference and sit only two-and-a-half games behind the Minnesota Timberwolves, a team they play again in a couple weeks.