(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY – The numbers Russell Westrbook has been putting up this year have caught the NBA by storm. Almost every night out he is being mentioned with the likes of Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan as far as records being broken.
But it wasn’t the statistics that stood out Sunday evening when Oklahoma City hosted Minnesota as part of the leagues Christmas slate. It was the seemingly pure joy the fiery point guard played with as the Thunder ran away with a 112-100 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I just go out and have fun,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know if it’s the most fun I’ve ever had but it’s definitely at the top because of the group of guys we have. Everybody is so unselfish. Everybody is willing to do great thing. Everybody is willing to get better. We’re young and blessed to be able to play this game. You can’t do nothing but have fun.”
Westbrook had 32 points on 11 of 25 shooting to go with 15 assists and seven rebounds as the Thunder improved to 19-12 this season and 5-2 on Christmas Day.
Center Steven Adams added 22 points and Enes Kanter came off the bench to drop 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor.
Karl Anthony Towns paced the Timberwolves with 26 points and eight rebounds. Andrew Wiggins scored 23 points and Zach LaVine added 16 as Minnesota dropped to 9-21.
“We did everything we could to play them as well as possible,” LaVine said. “We had some mental absences that lost us the game.”
The Timberwolves’ young superstars set the tone early in the game. Wiggins and Towns combined for 16 first-quarter points and showed no signs of being intimidated by playing on Christmas for the first time, leading Minnesota to a 27-23 advantage.
The big men spurred the comeback for the Thunder. Kanter came off the bench and posted 10 quick points. Joffrey Lauvergne and Adams also came alive in the second quarter to help keep the Thunder close.
But Westbrook erupted late in the half to push the Thunder ahead 57-53 at halftime.
Adams and Westbrook continued their two-man game game in the third quarter, with Adams rolling to the basket and bullying through Towns and Gorgui Deng for dunks.
The fight and tenacity the Timberwolves played with in the first half was absent in the second half and Oklahoma City’s stayed on the attack.
LaVine came to life in the second half and kept Minnesota within striking distance going into the fourth quarter. However, the Timberwolves were unable to get LaVine, Wiggins and Towns going at the same time.
Donovan credited the second half defense of Adams to slowing down Towns.
“Steven got a couple of fouls there in the first half, but in the second half. I thought in the second half he did a really good job,” Donovan said. “He was physical when Towns was coming from the perimeter to the low post. He kept his hands up and tried to make him take tough shots.”
The Thunder pulled away in the fourth quarter and never looked back.
Westbrook got the Oklahoma City fast break rolling and it led to dunks by Jerami Grant and easy layups from the rest of the team. After each play Westbrook gave his teammates high-fives or yelled and got the crowd pumped up.
“The thing about, he just loves to play,” Donovan said. “He loves to play. He should enjoy playing because he plays the game so hard and so passionately on every single possession. It’s good to see him enjoy how hard he plays. A lot of people look at the numbers, but I just don’t think the numbers describe who he is.”
Timberwolves Coach Tom Thibodeau pulled his starters with just under four minutes left in the game.
“I thought we played fairly well in the first half,” Thibodeau said. “Then in the third quarter, we knew Russell would come out and be very aggressive. The thing is you are not going to be able to stop him. You just have to make him work. I thought we did a good job of making him play in a crowd, but in the second half, we were a step behind. That hurt us.”