By Randy Renner, Senior Writer
Russell Westbrook has been pure gold for the Thunder in clutch time this season and he did it again last night, scoring 12 of his game-high 43 points in the final two minutes leading the Thunder to a thrilling 109-106 win over the Northwest Division leading Utah Jazz.
It’s the fourth straight win for OKC drawing the Thunder to within two games of the Jazz for fourth place in the Western Conference. It’s also the fourth straight triple-double for Westbrook who had 11 rebounds and 10 assists to go along with those 43 points.
“We have a player in Russell that has great internal belief in himself and great belief in his teammates and he is always playing with a level of optimism, with a level of enthusiasm and a never die attitude all the time,” said head coach Billy Donovan about his superstar point guard.
The Thunder had been keeping the Jazz at arm’s length all night because of a first half that saw them hit their first dozen 3-point attempts. OKC led by 13 in the fourth quarter but a 21-4 Utah run put the Jazz up by four with 0:48 to play.
Westbrook then hit a three to cut the margin to one, grabbed a rebound off a missed Utah shot and sprinted the length of the court for a transition bucket that put the Thunder back in front, this time to stay.
“It was just being calm. Situations like that, we’ve been in them before,” Westbrook told reporters later. “They made a fight. They’re a great team. We did a great job of keeping our composure and executing down the stretch.”
The Thunder also got big production from Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott. Abrines, filling in for Victor Oladipo for the third straight game scored 11 points and hit three 3s. McDermott, living up to his “Dougie McBuckets” nickname drilled four 3s and scored 16 points.
“I was able to just hit a couple corner three to get going and then I just felt really comfortable out there,” McDermott said. “I finally got some rest the last few days, the first couple days here were kind of a whirlwind but now I feel very comfortable and adjusted.”
If the Thunder can start getting consistent 3-point sharpshooting from Abrines and McDermott, not to mention Andre Roberson who’s also been on fire from deep lately (hasn’t missed a 3-point shot since the All-Star Break) then this team will be much more difficult for opponents to deal with.
The bench scored 48 points with Enes Kanter dropping in 15, Jerami Grant eight and Taj Gibson seven. Donovan put Abrines and McDermott on the floor together for a few minutes along with Kanter, Gibson and Semaj Christon. Abrines and McDermott spread the floor and Gibson and Kanter got free for dunks and putbacks off missed shots.
When Oladipo returns from his bout with back spasms, perhaps tomorrow night in Portland, the Thunder will appear to have the most dangerous lineup they’ve been able to put on the floor all season.
They’ll also be adding point guard Norris Cole who is expected to sign a deal as soon as today to fill OKC’s open roster spot.
Cole played on two Miami Heat title teams but has been playing China. Last season he averaged 10.6 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists for the New Orleans Pelicans. He shot 40.5 percent overall last season and 32.4 percent from deep.
In 347 NBA games Cole has averaged 7.1 points and 2.8 assists.
The Thunder are not practicing today and will fly to Portland this afternoon for tomorrow night’s game with the Blazers. They’ll be in Phoenix Friday night to play the Suns and the trip concludes Sunday in Dallas.
The Thunder are now 10 games over .500 (35-25) for this first time this season and seem poised to make a legitimate run for another Northwest Division title and top four finish in the Western Conference.
Considering where this team was when Kevin Durant high-tailed it to California on the 4th of July that's nothing short of amazing.