The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.
Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.
Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.
The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.
The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.
But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.
Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.
Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.
The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.
Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.
And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.
But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.