Thunder continue mastery of Jazz

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook really doesn’t like to talk about his triple-doubles. Whether the Oklahoma City point guard is being modest or would just rather focus on the team, he won’t elaborate in how much his triple-doubles are affecting his team’s success.
But it was hard for his teammates not to delve into it after Westbrook compiled his 32nd triple-double of the season to lead Oklahoma City to a 112-104 victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook posted 33 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds to break a tie with Wilt Chamberlain (1967-68) for second place on the triple-double list. Westbrook continues to average a triple-double and lead the NBA in scoring. Oklahoma City is 26-6 in games he records a triple-double.
“It doesn’t surprise any of us in this locker room,” Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said. “But it’s still historic, man. It’s unbelievable. I’m honored to be able to play alongside him.”
The Thunder are now 3-1 against the Northwest Division-leading Jazz and Westbrook has had a triple-double in each victory. .
Oladipo added 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 16 points while Taj Gibson finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Oklahoma City improved to 37-29.
Dante Exum led the Jazz with 22 points. Alex Burks added 21 points and seven rebounds. No Utah starter reached double figures in scoring or rebounds as it fell to 41-25.
But coach Quin Snyder liked how his reserves stepped in when they got their chance to play.
“The guys came in and competed,” Snyder said. “And that’s really all you want is for them to come in and compete. Usually when you do that, you can make some good things happen.”
Led by their reserves, the Jazz trimmed Oklahoma City’s 23-point advantage down to seven when Exum drove to the basket with 2:55 left in the fourth quarter. But Westbrook nailed a pair of free throws to give Oklahoma City a 105-96 advantage.
Westbrook then stole the ball and Exum was called for a clear path foul. He hit both attempts and the Thunder kept possession of the ball with 2:29 on the clock.
That led to Oladipo being fouled while driving to the rim. His free throw put Oklahoma City ahead 108-96.
Joel Bolomboy and Burks scored the next four points to get the Jazz to within eight points.
Andre Robertson missed two free throws and Utah’s Raul Neto came down for a layup to get deficit to six.
Westbrook hit another pair of free throw then came back with a one handed dunk to close out the game.
“We tried to pick up where we left of in the Spurs game,” Roberson said. “Just tried to be physical, use our length and athleticism to get out and run in transition and do what we love to do.”
With Rudy Gobert (leg) out of the lineup, Utah’s offense revolved around All-Star Gordon Hayward and Joe Johnson to start the afternoon.
Coach Billy Donovan tried to match up his best defender, Roberson, on Hayward through the game. Whenever Hayward was on the court, Roberson was in game shadowing him and limiting his touches.
The same could not be said for Oladipo, who had the Jazz defense running in in the first half. He drained three 3-pointers and attacked his defender with strong drives down the lane for dunks.
Westbrook reached his triple-double in the first few minutes of the third quarter. He went on to end the quarter with five points and five assists before he was taken out and Oklahoma City leading by 20.
Westbrook now has 16 games left to collect nine more triple-doubles and catch Oscar Robertson, who has the all-time record with 41.
“It’s amazing what he has done,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s like they are historic numbers you are talking about, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson, two of the greatest players to play the game. They are impactful in the game. And I think when Russell’s career is done… he is a guy that you are going to look at and say what he has done throughout his career is historic.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com

 

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