(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — On March 7, Russell Westbrook scored a career-high 58 points for Oklahoma City. It was one of the best individual performances the NBA has seen this season.
However, the Thunder lost that game as the team stretched its skid to four games at that point.
Since then, the Thunder seemed to have turned the corner. While Westbrook is still the focal point, his teammates have found their roles and their contributions have increased.
That was the case in Oklahoma City’s 110-94 victory over Sacramento on Saturday afternoon at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“We know we have the talent to score the ball inside or outside,” Thunder center Enes Kanter said. “We just need to focus on the defensive end, play with an edge.”
Westbrook led all scorers with 28 points, making 9 of 20 shots from the field, and had eight rebounds and 10 assists. He was two rebounds away from his 36th triple-double of the season.
Westbrook was asked if triple-doubles ever cross his mind late in games when he’s close.
“I just play bro,” Westbrook said.
Doug McDermott came off the Thunder bench to score 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor. Steven Adams added 16 points and 13 rebounds.
Enes Kanter contributed 14 points as Oklahoma City won its fifth straight game and improved to 40-29. The Thunder are tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth in the Western Conference.
Georgios Papagiannis led the Kings with 14 points and 11 boards.
“I’m in a rhythm right now. I started with 11 minutes and then started to get more, so I am just starting to get used to it because most of the time I have been playing for the D-League and when I got here the last few games it was a lot different,” Papagiannis said.
“So just every game and every practice I am trying to get used to the players because most of the time I had been in Reno and everything works right now.”
Skal Labissiere added 13 points and Buddy Hield scored 11 points as the Kings dropped to 27-42.
In the opening minutes of the game, the Kings looked like they might give the Thunder a fight. Led by Darren Collison, Sacramento opened a quick 10-9 advantage.
That was the last bit of hope the Kings had. The Thunder outscored them 20-9 the rest of the quarter to grab a double-digit lead.
The Oklahoma City bench continued to cause problems for Sacramento. Kanter wore out the lighter Willie Cauley-Stein in in the paint as he racked up 10 first-half points.
While Westbrook didn’t have to explode for big numbers, he made enough signature plays to leave an imprint on the game. That include draining a jumper in the final seconds of the first half to give Oklahoma City a 63-41 halftime lead.
Sacramento could never get its offense rolling. Oklahoma City’s Andre Roberson played suffocating defense on Hield. Meanwhile, Cauley-Stein, Collison and Labissiere couldn’t buy a basket.
“It’s hard to come back on a great team like that,” Hield said. “They have been playing together for a while, Russ is always great and then add the pieces of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, who are playing really well.
“We are a young team, so we just have to keep learning from these losses and keep getting better.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com