Russell Westbrook is turning into a special player for the Oklahoma City Thunder and it certainly showed with Kevin Durant out of the lineup.
Westbrook capped a 38-point, 15-rebound, nine-assist performance by scoring all of Oklahoma City’s 13 points in the third overtime, and the Thunder overcame the absence of an injured Durant with a 123-120 victory over the New Jersey Nets on Wednesday night.
”The guy keeps improving in front of our eyes every day,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said after his team won for the eighth time in 11 games. ”He plays hard and he’s still learning the game. He’s also doing things you don’t have to teach.”
Like everyone in the game, Westbrook had his highs and lows in this marathon that entertained despite having Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer, and Nets point guard Devin Harris sidelined with injuries.
The game just wouldn’t end.
The Nets tied it at the end of regulation on a running, 26-foot 3-pointer by Anthony Morrow, then blew leads of six points in the first overtime and three points with 4.6 seconds to go in the second when Stephen Graham fouled Oklahoma City’s Jeff Green on a 3-point attempt.
”I thought we had the game won a lot and I thought we lost it a lot,” Brooks said.
Westbrook, who finished 14 of 32 from the field, was spectacular in the final 5 minutes, shooting 5 of 7 from the field. He hit three straight jumpers to give Oklahoma City a 116-115 lead, then followed his own missed jumper with a layup to put the Thunder ahead 118-117 after Travis Outlaw hit a runner with 1:48 to play to give the Nets their last lead at 117-116.
After Jordan Farmar missed a shot, Westbrook went down the lane and converted a three-point play with a great crossover move for a 121-117 edge with 51.5 seconds to go.
”I just had to give it all I had,” Westbrook said. ”Honestly, I don’t think I was playing well before then. I just had to give all I had to get us a win. After I hit a few, I started to feel it and got in a groove. I think Jeff kept us in the game early on. I was just along for the ride.”
The Nets wouldn’t go away, though. Farmar, who had a career-high 28 points while starting for Harris, hit a 3-pointer with 9 seconds to play to cut the lead to a point. But Westbrook added two more free throws less than a second later to push the lead to three.
New Jersey had a final chance to tie it, but Farmar’s crosscourt pass was stolen with a second to play and the clock went off without a final shot.
”This is a game of waves and cycles,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. ”This is probably the game of the year in the NBA, it’s just too bad we’re on the losing end. I told my guys that I’m awfully proud to be their coach.”
Green had a career-high 37 points for the Thunder.
Brook Lopez led New Jersey with 28 points and 11 rebounds, while Morrow had 25 points.
Morrow forced the first overtime by taking an inbounds pass with 1.5 seconds to play and hitting a running 3-pointer at the buzzer to tie the game at 93.
New Jersey appeared to take control in the first overtime as Morrow hit a jumper, Outlaw nailed a 3 and Morrow added an off-balance jumper with 2:26 left for a 100-94 lead.
The Nets didn’t score again. Green cut the lead to four with a baseline jumper and Westbrook tied it with jumpers with 41.1 seconds and 18.9 seconds to go.
Oklahoma City gave a foul with 7.1 seconds left in the extra session and Lopez was forced to take a jumper from the corner that didn’t hit the rim.
After Farmar scored the first four points of the second overtime on layups, Westbrook hit two jumpers and fed Green for a 3-pointer to give Oklahoma City a 107-104 lead with 2:13 to go in the second overtime.
A jumper by Morrow cut the lead to a point and Lopez hit a basket in the low post with 52 seconds to go for a 108-107 New Jersey lead.
Westbrook missed three shots in the closing minute, the last with 9.9 seconds to go.
Morrow then seemed to sew up the game for New Jersey with two free throws with 6.2 seconds to go.
After an Oklahoma City timeout, Outlaw gave a foul with 5.4 seconds to go. The Thunder inbounded the ball to Green and Graham tried to surround him with his arms but Green got off a shot and was fouled. The shot hit off the backboard and nearly went in.
Green sank all three free throws to tie the game and Farmar had a baseline shot hit off the rim, forcing the third overtime.
Westbrook owned those 5 minutes.
”He’s improved leaps and bounds,” Durant said. ”He’s taken a step up as a player. He carried us tonight.”
James Harden, who scored 16 points, had put Oklahoma City ahead 91-90 with two free throws with 22.7 seconds to go and Westbrook seemed to ice the game when he added two more with 1.5 seconds left.
However, Morrow hit an improbable shot and the game kept going until Westbrook ended it.
NOTES: There were 19 lead changes and 13 ties. … Oklahoma City outrebounded New Jersey 50-45. … In the third quarter, Westbrook had a one-handed rebound dunk of a missed shot by Serge Ibaka, who had 11 points while starting for Durant.