Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook entered Sunday night's game averaging four 3-point attempts per game. Problem was, he was making only one of them.
Is that too many 3-point shots for Westbrook to take?
“Unless he starts making some,” coach Scott Brooks deadpanned before OKC faced the Cleveland Cavaliers before a sellout crowd (18,203) at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “It'd be better if he made a few more if he's going to take them.”
Three hours later, Westbrook indeed made a few more and ended up propelling the Thunder to a 106-91 victory over the pesky Cavs.
“I think the main thing is Russell got hot,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said afterward while explaining the loss.
In a span of just 3:07, Westbrook made four straight 3-pointers.
The first came with 1:20 left in the third quarter that gave OKC an eight-point lead.
The second came as the third-quarter buzzer sounded when he banked in a running 40-footer.
Westbrook then buried two more 3-pointers in the first 1:47 of the fourth period to suddenly give OKC a 12-point lead.
“One was probably a lucky shot,” Brooks admitted, “but other than that, they were shots that he can make.”
When Westbrook let go of his buzzer-beater, the Thunder was clinging to a 76-73 advantage.
“That is a good team and they are going to continue to attack,” Westbrook said of the Cavs. “I was trying to stay in attack mode and keep us going and get the crowd involved.”
In Scott's mind, Westbrook shouldn't have even gotten the shot off.
“I thought I had kind of relayed the message to everybody we had a foul to give (in the final two minutes of the quarter), and we needed to take that foul once they caught it and dribbled it up the court,” Scott explained. “(Cleveland defender Daniel) Gibson thought he was going to throw up a bad shot.
“That kind of shifted the momentum. … It's just one of those things where it's a heck of a shot and you have to give them a lot of credit for it.”
Had Westbrook's running one-hander not found the mark, Cleveland was in the middle of a 23-13 surge.
“Well, there was definitely some concern,” Brooks said. “There's about three minutes in that third quarter where there was concern. We were getting a little sloppy defensively. We were giving up points in transition, a lot of that was off of our sloppy play.
“That was a big shot he made. There was definitely some concern. I know this team (Cleveland) can definitely score. I thought they would get hot in that second half, but we did a good job of stopping that.”
Westbrook finished with a game-high 27 points and shot 10 for 16 from the field, including 4 for 6 from 3-point range. He also had 10 assists, six rebounds and four steals. Mixed in with all that good was some bad as Westbrook committed eight turnovers, one off his career high.
Westbrook's heroics came at a time in the game when he normally is on the bench for his final rest after being replaced by backup point guard Eric Maynor.
“My gut was telling me to keep him in there,” Brooks said of going against his normal substitution pattern. “He (Westbrook) didn't play a lot of minutes in the first half (17:38) so I knew I had some extra minutes in him. I just felt we needed his toughness.”
Kevin Durant added 26 points and eight rebounds for the Thunder (5-2), which takes a four-game winning streak into Detroit (0-7) for a Monday game at 6:30 p.m.
Three others also scored in double-digits for OKC. Sixth man Kevin Martin had 16 points on 6-for-9 shooting, plus five rebounds. Serge Ibaka had 14 points, seven rebounds and seven blocked shots, while center Kendrick Perkins finished with 10 points and shot 4 for 4 from the field.
“That should be us nightly,” Martin said of having five players score in double-figures. “There are great offensive players on this team and when we aren't selfish or turning the ball over, that can happen on a nightly basis.”
The Thunder once again kept things interesting by committing an abundance of turnovers. OKC had 21 turnovers that the Cavs converted into 20 points.