(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook continued his assault on the record books Tuesday when his Oklahoma City squad took on the Utah Jazz.
The All-Star point guard racked up his 30th triple-double of the season as the Thunder knocked off the Jazz 109-106 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Taking over in the fourth quarter has become the norm for him this season.
“I try to put myself in a position to where I don’t panic, I’ve been there before,” Westbrook said. “As a leader, it’s my job to make sure my team is calm as well. That’s what I tried to do, make sure everybody is level headed as well and concentrate on executing down the stretch. For many years, that was our problem, being able to execute and get the shot we wanted to. But I think that’s a part of my job to make sure we execute down the stretch.”
Westbrook scored 43 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. It was his eighth career 40-point triple-double and second in the last two games. He has five this season alone.
Doug McDermott had his best game as a member of the Thunder. He scored 16 points, including hitting 4-of-6 from 3-point range. Enes Kanter came off the bench to pour in 15 points and grab nine rebounds as Oklahoma City improved to 35-25 and to get within two games of the Jazz for the Northwest Division lead.
Oklahoma City ended the night shooting 69 percent from 3-point range and 51 percent from the field.
“They are making my job a lot easier,” Westbrook said of his teammates. “They put teams in a tough spot because they have to help when we have great shooters around the perimeter. It’s tough for teams.”
Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 19 points on 7 of 17 shooting. Rodney Hood added 18 points while George Hill scored 13 as the Jazz dropped to 37-23 on the season.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Joe Johnson said. “It happens like that sometimes. Our play was to keep them out of the paint and we did that and they hit some shots. They made us play, but I think we just stayed with it and made plays to be in position to win so that’s what it’s all about.”
With 5:10 left in the game, Hill drove down the lane for a dunk to close the deficit to 96-89. Hood then drained a 3-pointer to get the Jazz to within four points.
Steven Adams stopped the Utah run by hitting 1 of 2 free throws. But Utah’s Joe Johnson banged in a corner 3-pointer and Oklahoma City’s advantage was down to a single point with 3:13 left on the clock.
Westbrook then turned the ball over and it led to a Hood jumper to put the Jazz ahead for the first time in the game. A pair of Hill free throws gave Utah a 99-86 lead.
Westbrook came down and drilled a jumper, but Alex Abrines fouled Hood while attempting a 3-pointer. He made all three free throws.
With Utah leading 106-102, Westbrook drilled a 3-pointer, got a rebound on the other end and drove the court and completed a 3-point play to put Oklahoma City ahead 108-106.
Utah got the ball, but missed a long jumper. However, they got the rebound with 5.7 seconds left and called a timeout. On the inbounds, the Thunder shut down the initial play and forced Utah into a turnover.
Jerami Grant was fouled with 1.4 left. He hit 1-of-2 and the Thunder were up by 3.
Utah got the rebound with 1.1 on the clock and had one last chance to tie the contest. Hayward got the ball 35 feet out and was unable to get a clean shot off as the buzzer sounded.
“He played great,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said of Westbrook. “That’s who he is. … He made some plays down the stretch. He does that.”
It was a 3-point shooting display for the Thunder to start the evening. Despite being last in the NBA in 3-point percentage, they were on fire in the first half.
Westbrook led the charge as he hit 3 of 3 from long distance in the opening quarter on his way to an 18-point first quarter.
The Jazz tried to slow down the Thunder, but the flood gates were open. In the second quarter, Westbrook was joined by McDermott, who drained 4 of 4 from behind the 3-point line.
In all, Oklahoma City set a team record by hitting 12 consecutive 3-pointers.
“It felt good to see a couple go in,” McDermott said. “First couple of nights really didn’t have the opportunity and I mussed the ones I had open. Just to see a few go in will really help my confidence with this team going forward.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer for Eyeamtruth.com