Russell Westbrook decided the Thunder weren’t losing on Friday. Normally, when players take over a game and single-handedly win games for their teams, they decide this early on — first quarter, maybe, or early in the second half. Westbrook procrastinated, messed around and then decided to do it.
He scored 15 points in the final 2:35. They were the only 15 points scored by either team. The Thunder, down three points, won 114-102 against the Grizzlies, a West playoff rival.
If Westbrook wins Most Valuable Player come May, games like this will be why. James Harden, LeBron James and even Isaiah Thomas can take over games for their teams while putting up absurd stat lines, but Westbrook seems to do more with less than anyone else in the league. His triple-doubles speak for themselves, of course, but him scoring 15 points by himself in 155 seconds is something the other candidates don’t do. It’s not because they can’t, but because they don’t need to. For Oklahoma City to win, though, Westbrook sometimes — often? — has to be exactly the player he was on Friday.
A whirling blur of kinetic energy that blew away everything in his path, to be clear what type of player that was. With 2:35 left on the clock, Westbrook had arguably been having a bad game up to that point, as much as a player with a triple-double can have a “bad game.” He had 23 points on 5-of-16 shooting, an abnormally quiet night scoring for him — but there’s a reason why you shouldn’t say “abnormally quiet” around him until all 48 minutes are up.
It started with a three-point attempt on which he was fouled. One, two, three made free throws. He hit an actual three on the next possession, putting the Thunder up by three, and then another triple 30 seconds later.
Westbrook dared to actually miss a shot — a 17-foot pull-up jumper — on the next trip down the floor. It’s okay. He was bad and made up for it not even five seconds later with this steal and layup attempt that earned him a trip to the line. (This shot nearly spun in, too, but ended up coming out.)
A layup and two more free throws iced it, all while Memphis was scoring zero points. Westbrook’s final line: 38 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists, three steals, 8-of-20 shooting, 5-of-7 from behind the three-point line, 17-of-17 on free throws.
God. Damn. This was “take no prisoners” Westbrook. “I don’t care if you try to stop me with a 30-foot wall I’m still going to dunk all over you” Westbrook. “You might have a more talented team but you don’t have me so you’re still going to lose” Westbrook. “Just take this L right now” Westbrook.
Whether he’s the MVP or not, who knows. That’s for the final three months of the season to decide, since it’s so terribly close right now. But it’s perfectly fine to call this an MVP performance, because it was, whether he wins it or not. This is what we expect out of the player who we award as the best in the regular season. This is the type of game, the type of fire, the type of sheer brilliance we crave to see on a basketball court.
Oklahoma City had lost three straight after an extremely difficult road trip. They really needed a win, so Westbrook won them the game. Sometimes, basketball’s just that simple.
Checking in on another MVP candidate: James Harden was really good, too
It’s like these are checking each other’s box scores on the sidelines, or something. On a night where Russell Westbrook lit up the Grizzlies, James Harden beat Chicago in overtime.
One day soon, we’ll talk about Houston’s struggles. The Bulls didn’t have Jimmy Butler and they still took Houston to overtime. Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza have lost the ability to shoot — temporary, we’re sure, but it highlights a bigger problem that when this team’s shooting is off, there’s not much anyone not named Harden can do about it. Another day, we’re dive into that, because Harden did do something about it.
Sure, it took 33 shots, but Harden dropped 42 points with 12 rebounds and nine assists. He hit a filthy step-back jumper with 27 seconds left to tie the game in regulation, and he recorded six points and an assist in overtime to make sure Houston didn’t blow the game after leading, at one point, by 20.
Houston’s roster has plenty of talent, but Harden is the cog they rely on to make it all happen. That’s why he played 44 minutes in Friday’s game, why he took 33 shots, and why Houston is okay with all that. It wasn’t a perfect answer to Westbrook, but clearly, these two will be going back and forth for the rest of the season.
Isaiah Thomas did it again
That’s a good week. Boston beat the Lakers, putting them ahead by a point in the all-time series.
UPDATED NBA all-time wins list:
Celtics – 3,253
Lakers – 3,252
— SB Nation (@SBNation) February 4, 2017
Friday’s best play
Friday’s final scores
NBA scores 2017: Russell Westbrook had a MVP performance vs. the Grizzlies – SB Nation