An already thin Miami Heat squad was even thinner Tuesday night, missing two starters: Goran Dragic and Josh McRobertson. Not that it mattered–the Heat had lost nine of their last 13 coming into the game, and the Thunder had won four of their last five. Put simply: the writing was on the wall for a Thunder victory.
None of that should minimize another fantastic Russell Westbrook’s performance–he had 28 points, 18 boards, and 11 assists on the night. He was in absolute command of the Thunder offense–and the Heat defense for that matter–all night long; he had Miami in hand like a yo-yo. Russ did, however, have seven turnovers en route to his 15th triple-double of this season.
Steven Adams, matched up against one of the league’s premier interior defenders in Hassan Whiteside, played spectacularly. He notched 15 points and eight rebounds, but his two monster dunks were huge–his rim-running abilities have been minimized in Kevin Durant’s absence, but the Thunder’s new-found spacing is paramount for Adams offensively. The second dunk, with Adams scowling as he hangs on the rim over Whiteside, is particularly nasty:
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) December 28, 2016
It was certainly a dominant game for the Thunder in several facets: they out-shot the Heat by over 7%, out-rebounded them by 12, and had 12 more fast break points. On the interior, the Thunder outscored the Heat 58-32. OKC also had a slight edge in bench points, edging Miami 47-36. Enes Kanter and Alex Abrines were a large part of the bench unit’s good play, combining for 33 points on the night.
Despite their dominance, Oklahoma City managed to let their once-22-point lead slip away late in the game. The pesky Heat squad managed to claw their way back in the game with some late shooting from deep, but it didn’t matter: Russ shut them down time and time again.
“Closing out games is key for us, especially in the fourth quarter,” he said. “It’s just doing whatever you have to do to put your body on the line for your teammates and help them win. That’s what I try to do throughout games, to try to find my way to have an impact on the game.”
It can’t be argued that Westbrook has a wooly mammoth-sized impact on the game. It could be argued that no other player has a bigger impact on his team–is it time to start regarding him as a true MVP candidate?
The Thunder have now won four straight, improving to 20-12. The Heat fall 10-22. Next up for the Thunder: they travel to Memphis to take on the Grizzlies Thursday night. Tipoff is at 7 P.M. CST.