NBA

Thunder Outlast Knicks in the Garden, Westbrook Now Averaging Triple-Double

Thunder Outlast Knicks in the Garden, Westbrook Now Averaging Triple-Double

It’s becoming pedestrian, folks–that is, if it hasn’t already. I’m talking, of course, about Russell Westbrook’s triple-double habit. He now has eight on the season, and is averaging double digit points, rebounds, and assists later in the season than anyone not named Oscar Robertson.

Westbrook scored 27 points on 9-23 shooting, grabbed 18 rebounds, and dished out 14 assists against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.

Westbrook was obviously a huge part of the Thunder’s 112-103 road victory over the Knicks, but his teammates did the things that make older fans of the league proud: grit, grind, hustle, scrappiness, doggedness. The platitudes don’t matter so much as the truth: the Thunder kicked the Knicks’ ass, and they did it in a vintage way, pounding the boards, attacking the basket, and playing physical yet disciplined defense.

The Knicks’ coach Jeff Hornacek called his team out for lack of hustle last night:

“They just outmuscled us,” coach Hornacek said. “Outmuscled and in that [fourth quarter] stretch they outhustled us. They were quicker to the balls. We didn’t do a very good job of boxing guys out. If we think we’re going to just turn and not drive a guy away from the basket, just turn thinking you’ll get it — we told them, Kanter and Adams, those guys, you’re going to have to hit them and hit them hard. They were just tougher than us.”

This play, for example, was a microcosm of the game as a whole:

Victor Oladipo made the play that time, but it was Andre Roberson’s defense that set the edge for the Thunder. He held Carmelo Anthony–an all-world scorer by all rights–to 18 points on just 4 -19 shooting. “Awesome, amazing,” was all Steven Adams could manage when trying to describe Roberson’s defense. Frankly, it’s difficult to find the right words to describe it without selling ‘Dre short. He’s safely in the first tier of elite perimeter defensive wings, right alongside LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Allen, and Paul George.

Russell Westbrook has been as dominant as advertised, and when his teammates play somewhere in the same stratosphere as him, the game comes easy. The Thunder’s 17 offensive boards (36 rebounds in total) were a huge reason for their huge road victory in Madison Square Garden.

You can thank Steven Adams and Enes Kanter for that. The two bigs have seemed less effective in the paint on offense due to the noticeable change in spacing this season–teams have formed walls near the rim due to the Thunders lack of shooting–but they absolutely owned it against the Knicks. And they should have: New York lacks the personnel to handle them. A washed-up Joakim Noah and an all-too-skinny Kristaps Porzingis were simply outmuscled in the post and on the boards.

It seemed as if Adams and Kanter had manhandled the Knicks all game, but the game was still close down the stretch. Fortunately, some clutch offensive rebounding–five boards in the final six minutes, to be exact–propelled the Thunder over the Knicks in a key road game.

Enes Kanter and Anthony Morrow have led the bench unit in the previous few games, and they continued to do so against the Knicks. They combined for 41 points on the night. The Thunder bench scored 66 points–over half of OKC’s point total. Comparatively, the New York bench managed just 19 points.

In addition to his 27 points, Enes Kanter also grabbed 10 boards, six of them offensively. The bench had been a major area of concern for the Thunder, lacking any identity or cohesiveness at the start of the season. Donovan seems to be more comfortable with his second unit now, and it should only improve when Cam Payne returns.

Despite limited or no playing time early on in the season, Anthony Morrow shook off the dust very quickly. The season is about one-quarter of the way done, and Morrow is finally finding a consistent, substantial spot in the rotation.

“It’s about grinding through those things and through those moments and being aggressive still,” Morrow said after the game. “Knowing you’re going to be in for a certain amount of time, make the best of that time whether shots are going in or not. Make sure you give your best effort on both ends of the floor, that’s all you can control.”

The Thunder improve to 11-8, while the Knicks fall to 8-9. Next up for OKC: Scott Brooks and the Wizards visit Chesapeake Energy Arena on Wednesday. Tip-off is at 7 P.M.

 

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