NEW ORLEANS — Russell Westbrook refuses to get down on himself while his shot's not falling.
Then again, you should know enough about Westbrook by now to know that never would have been a possibility in the first place.
And so as he continues to be mired in one of the worst shooting slumps he's ever experienced at the start of a season, Westbrook is finding other ways to help his team. On Friday night, in the Thunder's 110-95 victory at New Orleans, that's exactly what he did.
Westbrook scored 10 points and dished a game-high 12 assists in 28 minutes against the Hornets. But the most impressive, and most impactful, contribution Westbrook made was something that couldn't quite be measured statistically. It was his non-stop ball pressure on the opposing backcourt.
By hounding Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez and backup Brian Roberts, often times the entire length of the court, Westbrook took New Orleans completely out of any offensive rhythm. As a result, the Hornets fell into an early hole that only grew deeper as the game went on while they struggled to generate offense.
“He didn't shoot the ball well, but it was one of his better games on both ends of the floor,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks of Westbrook. “He was disruptive. When he plays like that, he puts a lot of pressure on the opponent, puts a lot of pressure on the team and their point guard to run the offense. I thought his effort and intensity was the highest I've ever seen.”
The Thunder jumped to an 11-2 lead in the first three minutes thanks to a defensive effort that became the theme all period. New Orleans scored on consecutive possessions just once in the opening quarter. That allowed OKC to build a 20-point lead and take an 18-point cushion into the second quarter.
It only got worse, as the Thunder pushed its lead to 30 points in the second quarter and 34 early in the third before finally calling off the dogs and sitting the starters for the duration of the fourth.
Vasquez, who entered the game averaging 12.3 points, a team-leading 8.8 assists and 4.2 rebounds, was held to seven points, seven assists and two rebounds while shooting 2 of 6 from the field.
“He dominated the game,” said Kevin Durant of Westbrook. “He took Greivis out the game. He took Roberts out the game. And he controlled the game on offense as well by just getting everybody in their spots and passing the ball. He had a great game tonight.”
It was the fourth time this season that Westbrook has registered at least 10 assists. Last season, Westbrook had just four regular season games with 10-plus assists, and just six when you include the playoffs. Friday's tally ticked Westbrook's average to 8.5 on the year, 0.3 more than his career-high from two seasons ago.
“I'm just getting in the paint,” Westbrook said of his success as a passer. “When I go to the basket a lot of guys are collapsing on me and guys are open. And my job is to make sure to get the ball there on time and on target.”
Led by Westbrook's set-ups, the Thunder recorded a season-high 31 assists. Only nine of the team's made field goals went unassisted. A byproduct of that ball movement was a season-high 14 made 3-pointers, something that blew Brooks' mind after the game.
“I don't think we can count on that night in and night out,” he said. “But they were falling.”
Westbrook, ironically, missed all four of his 3-point bombs. He made just three of 11 shots Friday, which dropped him to 69-for-178 on the season, a 38.7 percent clip that is now below the 39.8 percent he shot as rookie. But he admitted he's trying to do other things to help his team win while his shot continues to fail him.
“That's all that matters in this league,” Westbrook said. “It's not about me making shots. It's not about me scoring a certain amount of points. That's not the issue. Our (focus) is on winning games and that's all I try to do.”
The Hornets might have been the first team this season to feel Westbrook's wrath defensively. But he vows that they won't be the last.
“That's just what I have to do personally, defensively, for us to win,” Westbrook said. “That's definitely something you're going to see every night from me.”