Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook is never one to shy away from a big moment, but he doesn’t exactly have the best track record on game-winning shot attempts. When the Thunder need a big shot to tie or win late, Westbrook can often be seen rushing pull-up jumpers or charging towards the basket in an out-of-control attempt to draw a foul or dunk on seven opponents at once. It’s endearing, in its own way, but not exactly emblematic of what most consider prime late-game execution.
By the numbers, though, Westbrook is pretty effective in clutch moments, and that statistical reality matched up with the end-of-game highlights in Monday’s contest at the Utah Jazz.
With 12 seconds remaining in regulation, Westbrook hit two free throws following a Steven Adams offensive rebound to increase the OKC lead to 95-92. That advantage proved short-lived, though, because Jazz star Gordon Hayward coolly made a 3-pointer to tie it up.
That left Westbrook with 10 seconds to avoid overtime. He took his time, let Adams set a screen near halfcourt to free him up, and made a pull-up jumper to win it:
Alec Burks missed a tough 3 at the buzzer after a Jazz timeout, and the Thunder left town with a 97-95 win.
Westbrook’s winner followed logically from his performance over the final few minutes. The Jazz opted to protect the rim and force the Thunder leader into jumpers, a sane plan given Westbrook’s tendencies. He excelled instead, scoring 13 points over the final 3:05 to finish with 38 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, and four steals in 36 minutes. It was his 22nd triple-double of the season and the 59th of his career, bringing him into a tie with Larry Bird for fifth on the all-time list.
Westbrook’s 11-of-29 shooting and six turnovers weren’t terrific, but the sheer volume of his scoring (including a 13-of-17 showing from the free-throw line) and playmaking meant a lot in such a low-scoring game. This contest was largely played with Utah’s preferred style — a 19-11 third quarter went in the hosts’ favor — and neither team shot well from beyond the arc. Only seven players scored in double figures, and Westbrook put up 20 points more than second-place finisher Victor Oladipo. He won the game for his team.
It’s a role he plays fairly often. As noted by Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated, Westbrook is near the top of many categories when it comes to clutch performance:
In clutch situations this season, Thunder's Russell Westbrook leads NBA in points, +/-, usage, steals, FGA. 2nd in rebounds + assists (fix) pic.twitter.com/XQuhIulPps
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) January 24, 2017
Many of these stats depend on getting a lot of clutch minutes to begin with, which ultimately says more about the Thunder than it does Westbrook. Nevertheless, his clutch plus-minus and raw totals point to a player who takes on great responsibility and ultimately succeeds more than he fails. Here’s hoping that Westbrook gets a few more game-winners so that fans’ impressions catch up with reality.
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