The Oklahoma City Thunder need two wins. With road games at Houston, at Miami and a home finale against the Memphis Grizzlies, the prospect of two wins seemed a little too optimistic.
That is, until Russell Westbrook knew what he had to do.
With a short-handed Rockets lineup who sat Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, the Thunder saw an opportunity to steal a much needed victory. A victory that Westbrook understood was pivotal.
“With the game on the line, I knew what had to be done,” Westbrook said in the locker room. “I told Paul (George) and Corey (Brewer) to take someone else.”
Westbrook was of course referring to defending James Harden down the stretch. A matchup that the former Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year took on and executed masterfully. In a game that featured the reigning-MVP and quite possibly the next MVP, Westbrook came out the victor — forcing two turnovers and a decisive fast-break dunk in the final minutes to secure an Oklahoma City victory.
A 9-0 run midway through the fourth quarter with the Thunder up four led to the vital road victory.
People will leave this gamer remembering Westbrook’s play down the stretch — in a game where he finished with 24 points on 10-of -28 shooting, seven rebounds and 10 assists — but a ton of credit needs to go to reserve Jerami Grant.
Grant only finished with 12 of the bench’s total 20 points, but each bucket was crucial. The former Syracuse swing man provided energy, rim protection and timely baskets to keep the Thunder from succumbing to those patented 2017-18 Rocket’s runs.
Billy Donovan said in the postgame that Grant’s versatility allowed the third year coach to trust in him over Steven Adams late in the fourth to combat Clint Capela’s roaming towards the basket. It was a decision that paid off for the desperate Thunder.
His two blocks to go along with his five rebounds all seemed to hold a significant influence on the flow of the game. Without Grant, the bench struggled — shooting a combined 2-of-12 between Alex Abrines, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton.
The other stars also made an appearance. With George and Carmelo Anthony struggling of late, much of the optimism centered around these two simply hitting shots. Tonight they answered the call.
Anthony was particularly brilliant, shooting 50 percent from the floor — as well as 3-for-6 from beyond the arc. All this was brought on by a vintage Melo on the block, jab step, and blow by Gerald Green for a two-handed dunk. A dunk which ignited the bench and the Thunder spirit — this was a game they could take.
If you set the barometer for how Oklahoma City performs by combining Anthony and Geroge’s shooting, then you can be happy with tonight’s results. 13-for-31 including 6-of-13 from three.
Now the Thunder set their eyes on a Monday night matchup with the Miami Heat. If Oklahoma City wins, they guarantee themselves at least the eighth seed in the West. They are currently at the seven seed.
A win in Houston, which saw the end of the Rocket’s 20-game home winning streak come to an end, shows the potential of this Oklahoma City team. A potential we have all seen come and go during the season.
It is certainly what you want to see heading into a potential postseason run.