(Photo by Sam Murch)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — For most of the season, Russell Westbrook’s chase of the triple-double record and his team’s success coincided. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s success rate when he reaches those magical double-digit numbers made the historical ride beyond reproach.
However, the luster is starting to come off as the Thunder have dropped three of their last five games in which Westbrook earned a triple-double. The latest came Sunday afternoon, when the Charlotte Hornets beat Oklahoma City 113-101 at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook registered his 40th triple-double of the season as he posted 40 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He is now one triple-double away from tying the record held by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (1961-62).
But when asked what he feels about potentially tying the record, Westbrook didn’t want to talk about it.
“We gotta win,” Westbrook said. “That’s my thoughts.”
Kemba Walker scored 29 points to lead Charlotte (36-41). He shot 10 of 20 from the field and 6 of 12 from the 3-point arc. Frank Kaminsky came off the bench to post 18 points. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added 16 points and six rebounds as the Hornets pulled within 1 1/2 games of Miami for the last Eastern Conference playoff spot pending the Heat’s night game against the Denver Nuggets.
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo scored 19 points while Andre Roberson added 12. No other player scored in double figures as Oklahoma City (43-33) dropped its second straight game. The sixth-place Thunder are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings.
Oklahoma City didn’t help its efforts with 24 turnovers.
“We were just making bad mistakes, bad decisions,” Westbrook said. “Starting with myself, we have to take better care of the ball.”
Oklahoma City used an 11-1 run to cut the Hornets’ lead down to 102-91. A three-point play by Cody Zeller halted the Thunder momentum.
Leading by 12, Walker drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Westbrook answered right back from the same location.
After getting a stop, Westbrook had an opportunity to cut the deficit, but he missed a layup in traffic. Marvin Williams then hit a pair of free throws to give Charlotte a 110-96 lead.
However, Westbrook knocked in a 3-pointer and was fouled. He missed the free throw and Oklahoma City trailed 110-99.
That was enough to put the game away for Charlotte.
“Every guy who played today contributed,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “Starters got off to a great start. … Then, really, it was the guys coming off the bench that really got the cushion there early in the fourth.”
The Hornets began the afternoon by spreading the wealth around. Nine different Hornets scored in the first half.
But it was the bench players who sparked the Hornets. Kaminsky and Marco Belinelli combined for 17 points in the first half.
“When our level of play off the bench is very high, we just play with a lot of energy,” Kaminsky said. “Then the starters can get more rest when we are playing well. If we can play like that going forward, I think we will be in a good spot.”
Oklahoma City turned to Westbrook and Oladipo to carry its scoring load. The backcourt duo had a slow start, but picked up the pace in the second quarter as they posted 34 points, but the Hornets still led 59-54 at halftime.
Charlotte picked up its defensive presence in the third quarter and took apart the Thunder. Oklahoma City didn’t score until 6:24 left in the quarter when Westbrook drove the lane and scooped in a layup.
Westbrook scored 13 straight points as he tried to take over the contest. Yet Charlotte still held a 14-point advantage going into the fourth.
“This is one of the best defensive games we played in a while,” Charlotte’s Steve Clifford said. “I know (Westbrook) had 40 and we didn’t make a lot of mistakes on him. He is such a great shot maker. He had 40, but I feel our defense on him was good.”
After the Thunder reserves cut the Hornets’ lead down to 12, Jeremy Lamb hit a string of baskets to get Charlotte’s lead back up to 21.
“It was great. We were on a string on both ends of the floor,” Lamb said. “Played good defense, did good gang rebounding. Even though Russ still had 40 and still had a triple double, we made him take a lot of shots to do it. That was good. Just an overall great win for us.”
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer with Eyeamtruth.com