Westbrook nears triple-double in Thunder victory
As the Oklahoma City Thunder go through perhaps the league’s most remarkable turnaround this season, none of their players embodies it more than their second-year point guard.
Westbrook scored 18 points, matched his own franchise record with 15 assists and narrowly missed his second triple-double against the Minnesota Timberwolves in less than a week, and the Thunder cruised to a 109-92 victory Friday night.
“He’s been like an MVP,” said teammate Kevin Durant(notes), who finished with 25 points. “A lot of people talk about me myself, but I think he’s been the best player on our team, the guy that’s the catalyst for our offense and defense. He’s been keeping everybody involved and also making shots himself. He’s putting a lot of pressure on the defense, man, and he’s been playing phenomenal.
“A lot of people tend to overlook him because he’s not one of the bigger-name point guards, but he’s been playing just as good as any point guard.”
After leading the league in turnovers as a rookie last season, Westbrook has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio from 1.6 to 2.5 this season. With his second 15-assist game this season, he surpassed his assist total from all of last season—in 25 fewer games.
“Just learning. Just slowing down and making better passes and passing on time,” Westbrook said. “Just trying to get as close to being perfect with the passes as I can.”
Westbrook wasn’t even a starting point guard in his time at UCLA, where he shared the backcourt with New Orleans Hornets rookie Darren Collison(notes). But he supplanted Earl Watson(notes) in the Thunder’s starting lineup early last season, perhaps before he was really ready.
“It’s a part of the learning scale,” Durant said. “Everybody has it when they first come into the league. Of course, you don’t come in and average 10 assists and two turnovers. You’ve got to go through them bumps and he’s done that and he’s way past it, and he’s getting better each game.
“It’s just a matter of time before he gets a double-double every game or close to a triple-double every game.”
Westbrook had the second triple-double of his career only five days earlier in a 109-107 win at Minnesota. This time, he had eight rebounds when he was removed from the game in the final four minutes and the Thunder up by 22.
“You want Russell to be active in all areas of the game,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “You don’t want him to focus on one area. He’s a dynamic athlete that can go to the offensive boards, he can rebound, he can pass, he can attack the basket and get to the free throw line.
“He’s not a traditional point guard, nor would I want him to be a traditional point guard. He is in attack mode and makes plays and he is doing a great job of improving on his decisions every night.”
Oklahoma City never trailed had seven players score in double figures, including Nick Collison(notes) (right knee) and rookie Serge Ibaka(notes) (back), who had missed the Thunder’s previous game with injuries. Ibaka had a career-high 14 points and Collison scored 10.
Durant reached 25 points for the 30th time in 31 games. His streak was stopped at 29 games by San Antonio on Wednesday night, the longest such streak since Michael Jordan scored at least 25 in 40 straight games in the 1986-87 season.
“He struggled and resisted a little bit coming off the bench but for our team, it gives us better opportunities with both of our units,” said Wolves coach Kurt Rambis, who moved Love into a reserve role last month. “Once he got himself into a comfort area in playing off the bench, his numbers just climbed right back up again.”
The Timberwolves were never within single digits in the second half while losing for the eighth time in nine games. Oklahoma City used a 19-4 run to build a 25-point lead in the third quarter, with Westbrook’s double-pump layup putting the Thunder up 76-51 with 4:24 left.
Minnesota got within 15 twice early in the fourth quarter, but the Thunder pushed the lead to 103-81 after Ibaka had a two-handed jam and a layup on back-to-back possessions. It wasn’t long before Westbrook and Durant were both out of the game.
The Thunder bounced back following back-to-back losses against the teams that had been immediately behind them in the Western Conference playoff race. Oklahoma City had won nine in a row before those losses to Phoenix and San Antonio.
“This isn’t the type of team that you’re going to come into this environment and outscore,” Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. “You’re going to have to find ways to get stops, and we weren’t doing that.”
NOTES: Former No. 2 overall pick Darko Milicic(notes), acquired in a trade from the New York Knicks, had six points and led the Timberwolves with nine rebounds in 25 minutes—his most playing time since joining the team. “Even by his own admission, he didn’t keep himself in NBA basketball shape,” Rambis said. “So, right now, it’s almost like he’s come to training camp without doing any summer work.” Rambis said Milicic there’s not enough time left this season for Milicic to blend in entirely with his new teammates but he has shown promise on defense and needs to regain confidence on offense. … Former Oklahoma City G Damien Wilkins(notes) has scored 15 or more points in a game only five times this season but twice against his former team. The Thunder held him scoreless this time.