There’s a chance Russell Westbrook has no memory, no recollection at all. It’s the only way to explain how he puts the quite common awful shooting performances behind him and turns into a much more effective scorer the next day, as he turned out to be, leading the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 116-100 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
A second straight road win for the Thunder, and a great night for Westbrook, scoring 27 points. A day after shooting only 6-of-21 against the Hawks, he comes away with 7-of-12 from the field and 11-of-11 from the line, adding 6 rebounds and 9 assists. The Memphis Grizzlies tried to put up a fight early on, but the Thunder started playing defense at the very end and turned it into a running game and a shooting contest, something the Grizzlies had no chance competing in.
The Grizzlies lost the game when they let it get out of hand in the second quarter. They were outscored 20-8 in the closing minutes of that quarter, allowing the Thunder to go with a 15-point lead into the half time break. After that, it was never close. A team like the Grizzlies, especially without Marc Gasol to add some mid range shooting an excellent defense, doesn’t have the offensive ability to create huge comeback runs, especially not against a team with plenty of players on hot hot nights.
The most surprising of all was Jeremy Lamb, getting a much bigger piece of the action this season, although most of his minutes in the win came in a garbage time. He scored 18 points off the bench, hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc and 7-of-9 in general. Reggie Jackson was slightly less efficient, but had a good time anytime he was on the court as well, scoring 17 points. Kevin Durant had a very quiet night after a scorching December, finishing with 18 points on 6-of-12 from the field, not feeling any need to force himself upon the game.
Russell is calming down, relaxing and just playing his game. He is getting confidence. We tell him when he does no one can stop him. Russell’s a no-excuse player. We could play back-to-back, we could play four in five nights, we can play every night for a month and he’s going to come in and play the game that he loves to play every night. He sets the tone for us and our guys do a great job following his lead.
Remember when Kendrick Perkins said Russell Westbrook is somewhat of a diva? One of the interesting things about Thunder post-game interviews over the last couple of years is how much time they spend building Westbrook up. Both Brooks and Durant know that the road to a title goes through their point guard. Last season’s playoffs were excellent proof of how quickly things deteriorate – in a team completely reliant on talent and not on game plan or coaching, losing him is fatal to their title hopes.
Massaging his ego is just as important, especially as he comes off a terrible game against the Hawks. Durant looks for confirmation and adoration as well, but Westbrook probably needs it a little bit more, hoping that he forgets about everything said about him when things don’t go too well.