The Oklahoma City Thunder turned in their most impressive performance of the season on Tuesday night, a 110-79 smashing of the Milwaukee Bucks. Russell Westbrook was predictably brilliant, putting up a 12-13-13 for his 41st triple-double of the season, tying Oscar Robertson’s record.
But it wasn’t just Westbrook who shone on Tuesday night. It was the complete Thunder team, a team that is coming together around their superstar playmaker at the exact right moment.
The Thunder’s performance against the Bucks was the first time the complete vision came together, and it was stunning to see. Westbrook was Westbrook of course, but the rest of the team played their roles to perfection – Steven Adams was a defensive menace, Victor Oladipo and Andre Roberson were aggressive when they got the ball, Enes Kanter showing his soft touch in the post. When the Thunder play like that, they become terrifying.
It hasn’t been that way all season, either. Too often this year, the rest of the team has looked content to stand around and wait for Westbrook to make something happen. Last night at least, they used his aggression to fuel their own, understanding that with him putting defenders on their heels, it would only open things up for them.
A play that really stood out to me was actually a turnover for the Thunder, but a good one, if that makes any sense. Westbrook had the ball on the perimeter and drove hard on the right, he made a smart, hard pass, then the ball went to Roberson, who immediately charged hard to the rim. The defense, already on its heels, had no prayer – Roberson got to the hoop, but was called for a (dubious) charge on Thon Maker, who had managed to get his feet set.
It was a turnover, but both Westbrook and coach Billy Donovan seemed delighted with the play. They know that play like that is what will take the Thunder deep.
Granted, this game was against a good-but-not-great Bucks team and not, say, the Spurs or the Warriors. But in the performance you saw the vision that Donovan has for the team: A defensive menace that is super aggressive on the offensive end, with Westbrook making everything happen with his explosive first step and vision.
On some nights, Westbrook will need to score more – he only put up 12 shots on Tuesday night – but for last night at least, he was looking to beat his man and move the ball, and his teammates rewarded him.
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They didn’t have a great shooting night, which was the funny thing, but they were so aggressive it didn’t much matter. Adams had four offensive rebounds, Westbrook another three, Kanter two, all big plays that kept the offense alive and beat down the Bucks. With Westbrook drawing attention and the other players not hesitating to shoot, the Bucks defenders were left scrambling, which opened up the offensive glass for the Thunder. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was overwhelming.
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It also points to how the Thunder, for all their flaws, are going to be a difficult out in the playoffs. Westbrook can score on anybody, Adams is a fantastic rim protector and rebounder, and Oladipo and Roberson are two fantastic wing defenders. Throw in Kanter’s scoring off the bench, this is a better team than people give them credit for.
And with everyone flying around like they did last night, the Thunder can turn the game into a physical track meet, and there are few people alive who can run with Russell Westbrook.