This was the game Russell Westbrook has been waiting for. Struggling since his second return, the 116-99 win over the Charlotte Bobcats was the first time in quite a while that Kevin Durant needed the help of his point guard in order to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to victory.
The injury to Thabo Sefolosha and Caron Butler still not starting his Thunder tenure might have meant that Westbrook would need to play more minutes than the Thunder intended him to. However, in just 25 minutes Westbrook dominated whenever he was on the court (+17 during his minutes), finishing with 26 points and 5 assists on a career best 10-of-12 from the field.
Kevin Durant led the team with 28 points, making it 25 consecutive games of 25 or more points, but he shot an awful 8-of-24 from the field including 0-of-6 from beyond the arc. However, despite a nice Al Jefferson block on Russell Westbrook in the fourth quarter, the Bobcats struggled keeping the Thunder out of the paint, resulting in 12-of-12 for Durant from the line and the Thunder winning 11-2 when it came to offensive rebounds.
This was the Westbrook the Thunder looked forward to seeing again. Someone who attacks the basket from the second he steps on the floor, going deep every time he’s on a pick and roll, as expected on a team that’s one of the best in the league in P & R. Westbrook did take 3-pointers (4-of-5) but that was helped with his aggressiveness early on, creating separation by keeping the Bobcats on their toes all night long, fearing him driving to the basket.
The Thunder scored 50 points in the paint and had Perry Jones in the starting lineup (4 points) due to the Sefolosha injury, making it a very big starting five, including Ibaka and Adams. Hasheem Thabeet was once again used off the bench and doing a very good job in protecting the rim for most of his 18 minutes, but Reggie Jackson was the best player off the bench with 17 points in 27 minutes, with the Thunder shooting an overall 50% from the field, meaning everyone but Durant were in their zone during the game.
Even with injuries to Sefolosha and Perkins, both out for five to six weeks, the Thunder look deep and dangerous, especially with Westbrook coming along nicely. The three losses that came with his return are buried deep in the memory of those looking closely at every slight and problem the Thunder have; and while the Bobcats aren’t the best indicator of true competition for this team, the game was another example of just how easily the Thunder can break away and finish a game when they heat up.
When Westbrook entered the game in the fourth quarter the Bobcats were behind by only six points with just over seven minutes left in the game. When he left late in the game, the Thunder were up by 20. He didn’t score much, but assisted four times and set the tone for the kind of basketball Charlotte couldn’t cope with.
The lead in the West remains in OKC’s hands, but we’ll get a much better indication of how well they cope without key defensive players when they play Phoenix, Houston, Chicago and Dallas over the next two weeks.