Just when he started to sizzle, showing signs of finally shaking his season-long shooting slump, Russell Westbrook suddenly pulled his superstitious act.
Before an entire question could be posed following the Thunder’s 109-85 win over Philadelphia on Friday, his latest precise shooting performance, Westbrook began shaking his head. Right away, you knew the topic of discussion was headed for a dead end with Westbrook.
Much like his pristine history with health, Westbrook didn’t want to talk about his recent accuracy. Too much is at stake and, as Westbrook sees it, things could go south.
“Why jinx him?” Kevin Durant joked from his neighboring locker.
Because it’s become impossible to ignore what Westbrook is building.
After struggling to find his shooting stroke throughout much of the Thunder’s first 28 games, Westbrook has been wonderful in the past four. The Thunder point guard simply carried Oklahoma City’s offense against a slumping Sixers team, scoring a game-high 27 points while picking and choosing his spots to near perfection.
Westbrook connected on 10 of 17 shots and made all four of his 3-pointers. His other six baskets came on a potent blend of driving layups, several of which he finished with both hands, and a handful of pullup jumpers.
Ten of Westbrook’s points came in the opening period, as the Thunder’s offense sputtered at the start. But the second half is when Westbrook really went to work, using his offense to help OKC overpower Philadelphia with a 63-43 scoring margin after intermission. He scored 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the second half, 12 coming in the game-changing third quarter.
“Just being patient,” Westbrook said. “The lane opened up for me and I was just concentrating on finishing.”
Serge Ibaka, who was sensational in his own right with 15 points and 10 rebounds, said he summoned Westbrook before the game and told his point guard to be aggressive.
“Everybody knows he can make pullup shots,” Ibaka said. “So I wanted him to try to drive the basketball.”
Durant in recent days also has attempted to drill it home to Westbrook that his preferred pullup jumper isn’t always the best shot. Westbrook has responded by passing on that shot more frequently. Only one of his makes, for instance, came on that type of shot.
But ever since he made 11 of 22 shots at Houston on Dec. 29 — the first time since Dec. 4 that he’s finished at least 50 percent from the field — Westbrook has been on a tear.
In the past four games, Westbrook is averaging 26.3 points on 52.7 percent shooting. He’s made eight of 13 3-pointers (61.5 percent) over that same span.
In the first 28 games, Westbrook averaged 21.2 points on 39.9 percent shooting and connected on just 33.9 percent of his 3-point tries.
“I’ve just been trying to take my time,” Westbrook reluctantly explained after shaking his head at the second question about his offensive surge. “That’s it.”
What makes Westbrook’s rising shooting percentages so significant is it’s the last thing that was missing from his offensive arsenal. Before Friday’s game Westbrook, despite his shooting struggles, was averaging 21.7 points while dishing a career-high 8.7 assists.
Now think about how much more lethal the Thunder can be if Westbrook continues to click.
“Hopefully it is turning the corner,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I know it’s definitely in the direction that we like it.”
Keep it up and there might not be much anybody can do to slow the Thunder.
“He’s taking good shots and he’s getting everybody involved,” Durant said. “That’s what’s making this car roll.”