San Antonio – Russell Westbrook pulled Steven Adam from the Thunder’s huddle during an early fourth-quarter timeout, before either checked back in for the closing stretch.
“That we was going to close the game out,” Westbrook said of his message to Adams. “…It was going to be me and him in the pick-and-roll in the last four or five minutes to go.
“And that’s exactly what it was.”
Westbrook (34 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and five steals) and Adams (16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks) led Oklahoma City to a 114-106 Christmas Day win over the Spurs.
As the Thunder search for answers with Kevin Durant sidelined, their point guard and center provided a solution for at least one game. Oklahoma City outscored San Antonio by 27 points in the 31 minutes Westbrook and Adams shared the floor and was outscored by 19 points in the game’s other 17 minutes.
Westbrook gets criticized like few other players, but he was unapologetically himself today – attacking the basket, pulling up for jumpers and screaming toward the heavens after every big shot he or a teammate made.
“He’s a force,” Brooks said. “He takes a couple of bad shots. There’s no question. But I like what he does. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He makes them make tough decisions.”
Said Westbrook: “I’ve said it before, and I’m going to keep saying it. My job is to continue to attack.”
Westbrook re-entered with 8:40 left and the Thunder down four, their largest deficit since early in second quarter. Immediately, he went to work, and Adams joined a couple minutes later. With 5:18 left, Westbrook fed Adams for a dunk on a pick-and-roll that put the Thunder up for good.
Adams’ 15 rebounds set a career high, and his 16 points were one shy of another. Throughout the game, he made Tim Duncan look old, using his agility to score around the future Hall of Famer on one end and his length to contest shots on the other.
“It means a whole lot more just that we won,” Adams said. “It doesn’t mean shit if we lost.”
The Thunder were coming off a tough four-game stretch. They just lost to the Warriors by five in a game Durant left early, beat the Lakers by one, lost to the Pelican by two and lost to the Trail Blazers in overtime.
They’re 7-1 in games Durant finishes healthy, but 7-15 otherwise. They outscore opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions with him on the court (which would lead the league) and were getting outscored by 2.3 points per 100 possessions with him off it entering tonight.
There’s no long-term solution for missing the reigning MVP, and the Thunder will improve dramatically once Durant returns.
In the meantime, Westbrook proved he’s capable of keeping them afloat in an incredible Western Conference, where a 14-16 Oklahoma City is closer to 12th place than eighth.
Westbrook’s final line – 34 points, 11 assists, five rebounds and five steals – is unprecedented by current players. The last time anyone did it was Baron Davis in 2005.
If you’re unconvinced at this point Westbrook is a special talent, you’re probably beyond saving.
After the game, he was asked whether his game management in crunch time gets analyzed more after losses than wins.
“That’s a good one,” Westbrook said with a laugh. “I ain’t going to answer that.”
Westbrook can’t answer for the critics, but sure answered them today.