Great players have short memories, and few in the NBA are as good as Russell Westbrook is right now. He didn’t just a rare game winning shot just before the buzzer, but simply took the reigns and pulled forward, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a dramatic 113-112 win over the Golden State Warriors, who simply can’t figure out what to do with Andre Iguodala still injured.
There’s been plenty of drama in the meetings between the two teams this season. Westbrook hit a big three in the previous game between the two, but Andre Iguodala came up with the buzzer beater to win the game. This time, with no Iguodala and the Thunder down by 2, it was Westbrook that came up with the act of heroism. Serge Ibaka missed the potential game winner, but Russell Westbrook came from nowhere to save the day. He tipped the ball from a Warrior hand to keep the ball in play, Thabo Sefolosha saved it from going out of bounds and Westbrook hit a three from the corner, leaving only 0.1 seconds on the clock.
Going back through Westbrook’s career of trying to be like Kevin Durant, he is only 2-of-21 on game-tying or go-ahead field goal attempts in the final 5 seconds of 4th quarter or overtime including the playoffs. Somehow, he let a 2-of-16 performance against the Spurs simply be completely forgotten, and come out with a massive 34 points performance, adding 7 assists and 5 steals, winning the interesting duel with Stephen Curry, who finished with 32 points.
It’s almost impossible to beat the Thunder in a shot-for-shot trade off, especially in OKC, but the Warriors are a team that can actually pull that off. No defenses, not too much strategy. Just plenty of one on ones and a lot of bad defense from key stars like Kevin Durant (25 points), Harrison Barnes (26 points) and the already mentioned Curry and Westbrook. The Thudner just enjoyed the lucky bounces on the final play to seal the gave in overtime.
It was a fortunate bounce for them. A lot of good things happened for them in that possession. It’s frustrating for us tonight. The Warriors now fall to 9-8, losing five of their last six games. The Thunder are on a different kind of streak, winning six consecutive games, including playing the last five of them at home and having one more to go in this extended home stand.
Was there more than Westbrook, Durant and Serge Ibaka (18 points) for the Thunder? Not really. The team shot only 39.1% from the field, but this isn’t a group that’s based on efficiency. It’s about maximizing individual talent, and letting the rest of the “simple folk” do the rest – defense, rebounding and hustle. Overall, as Durant and Westbrook are entering their prime as NBA players, it’s been working quite well based on their regular season record over the last three and a bit seasons. Whether or not it’s going to take a bit more sophisticated from the coaching staff is too soon to tell, but history tells that just letting your stars shoot and score in whatever way they want doesn’t end with title rings.