Three games and three wins for the Oklahoma City Thunder this week. The Thunder started the week off with a solid win over the New Orleans Pelicans on the road, followed it up with impressive win in Boston, and capped things with a fun and festive romp over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Christmas Day.
SIX THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Russell Westbrook. Every week this here column highlights the absolute splendor that is Russell Westbrook. You’d think this would start to get repetitive or old, but in reality, the nightly Westbrook highlight show is even more amazing than I could have ever dreamed. Three forty-point nights in a row? Sure. Fourteen triple-doubles in 31 games? Of course. Fifteen points in three minutes, including two huge threes to close out the Celtics? Yes, sir. Thirty-point, fifteen-assist performance on Christmas Day? Why not.
Oklahoma City Funder. One thing that concerned me coming into the season was the potential mental grind of Westbrook being the single pin upon which all hopes rested. And, during that four-game losing streak to drop the Thunder to 8-8, it really felt like dark times were just around the corner. But instead of darkness, the team has rallied around Westbrook as the solo pilot of the plane. You’d think that the guys might grow weary of constantly deferring to Westbrook–watching him take nearly every shot in crunch time, in particular. The reality is quite the opposite, however, as the team seems to relish doing the little things to keep the Thunder in the game until Westbrook can take over in crunch time. I think the best example of how much the team enjoys this Westbrook-led mentality was Enes Kanter’s assist to Westbrook against the T-Wolves. On the break, Kanter had the opportunity to take a wide-open dunk, but instead he dumps it to Westbrook who flushes it home while Kanter stretched his arms out in celebration. Now, let me remind you that Kanter was traded from the Utah Jazz in part because of unrest due to a diminished role, yet now he’s happy being second (or third chair) for the benefit of the band. Credit to Westbrook for leading a team that loves playing together, and, more importantly, loves playing with him.
Sabonis Posterizes. Now this is a rookie moment.
The Bench Mob. Though there were question marks about nearly every part of the team except for Westbrook, the bench was among the biggest of questions. Through the first 24 games, the bench played about how’d you expect them to play–average at best. As a result, the bench ranked 15th in the league in scoring, and 19th in net rating, through December 11. Since then, however, the bench has surged, largely during Victor Oladipo’s absence. Over the last 8 games and 2 weeks and change, the Thunder’s bench has ranked 8th in the league in scoring and in net rating. Seemingly out of nowhere, instead of relinquishing leads, the bench has gained or extended leads. Go bench!
Christmas Day Jerseys. Sure, they were the same style as last year. But that blue was sweet. Could they use this color for an alternate please?
Injury Reports. In training camp, Cameron Payne suffered an acute fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot. Though the expected recovery time was 6-8 weeks, the Thunder were mum on the timing of his recovery–and the Thunder remain mum to this day. Then, on December 11, Oladipo took a terrifying fall and sprained his right wrist. After scans came back negative, the thought was that Oladipo would be day to day, but it’s now been seven games, and the prognosis is the same. Now maybe the Thunder really are as clueless as we are on the recovery timelines of injured players, but the Thunder have a habit of being overly vague about injuries. For fans that follow the team as close we do, and many of whom pay good money to watch the Thunder, would it kill the team to give us just a little clue of when our players might return from injury?
AND ONE MORE THING MAKES SEVEN
Fast Break Kanter. That Russell Westbrook Shammgod tribute was cool, I guess, but Kanter as a one-man fast break is something special.