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While Russell Westbrook’s MVP candidacy remains very strong, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar’s absurd stat lines have not translated to many wins of late. OKC came into Friday night’s matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies having lost three games in a row and six of its last 10, a stretch that would have looked better if all those defeats hadn’t also come by double figures. Even the best teams go through difficult stretches from time to time — just look at the Cleveland Cavaliers — but the Thunder welcomed the Grizzlies to Chesapeake Energy Arena in clear need of a boost.
Leave it to Westbrook to be there for the Thunder in their time of need. Facing a 102-99 deficit with just 2:50 remaining, Westbrook closed the game on a personal 15-0 run to lock up a 114-102 win. Westbrook’s game-winning stretch included seven free throws (on seven attempts), two tough three-pointers, a lay-up, only one missed shot, and a steal with 50 seconds remaining that forced the Grizzlies to send him to the line. It feels like an understatement to say he took over — he needed little help from his teammates at the offensive end and made plays where none had seemed to exist (and, again, literally no one else scored).
Yet that 15-0 run covered just part of Westbrook’s impact on the game. The triple-double machine finished with 38 points (8-of-20 FG, 5-of-7 3FG, 17-of-17 FT), 13 rebounds, and 12 assists, leading four Thunder players with at least 15 points. It was also a strong night for the Thunder offense as a whole, at least when they weren’t giving away the ball. The hosts shot 47.5 percent from the field and made 13-of-26 three-pointers to offset 20 miscues (against only 21 assists).
Those mistakes almost cost the Thunder the game. Up 58-48 at the half, OKC allowed 34 points to Memphis in the third quarter and entered the fourth at a two-point deficit. The Grizzlies shot only 3-of-19 from beyond the arc but seized on the Thunder’s mistakes. It also helped that center Marc Gasol made five of his six third-quarter field goals to give his team a steady scoring threat. Gasol finished with 31 points on 14-of-24 shooting and dished out eight assists in an All-Star performance.
He just wasn’t Westbrook, an athlete receiving more and more attention as a singular force in sports. Sam Anderson described the Russ experience well in an excellent feature for this week’s New York Times Magazine — “total presence, total sincerity, total effort, all the time.” For the last three minutes of Friday’s game, Westbrook was all there was.
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