Suns Thunder Basketball

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender (35) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Sue Ogrocki

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook did not attempt a 3-point shot Thursday.

It’s the first time Westbrook has done so since a 37-point win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 3. That game came in the midst of a streak when the Thunder point guard was holding off on 3-point shots. It was a time when the offense was humming.

The scoring attack flowed again during Thursday’s 115-87 blowout of Phoenix, the first time Oklahoma City has wrecked an opponent since an 18-point win over Memphis on Feb. 11. That’s almost a month of close wins over mostly tanking opponents and losses to playoff-projected teams. And during that span, Westbrook’s shooting has been below his usual standards.

Of course, that was far from the case Thursday, when he didn’t even have to play the fourth quarter during the win and finished with 27 points, eight rebounds and nine assists on 11 of 14 shooting.

“He set the table for everybody tonight,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He did a really great job playing downhill, getting guys shots. He was terrific. His leadership, his communication out there.”

The performance, which included only a couple of turnovers as well, came against the tanking Suns, who the Thunder beat in Phoenix just last week, when Westbrook went for 43 points on 25 shots. But it also comes in the midst of a shooting and efficiency slump, which has taken a bump up during each of these Suns games.

Westbrook drained from mid-range and attacked the rim relentlessly Thursday, similarly to how he exploited the same team less than a week ago. But he’d shot just 18 percent from 3-point range over his previous 15 games heading into the game. His true-shooting percentage during that time was a suboptimal 51 percent. League average is around 55.

He went to his more tactical approach this time, facilitating from the jump, limiting mid-range shots as the game went on and relying on a more balanced floor game and some of the shot-happier forms that have consumed Westbrook recently.

“I think that’s probably the best thing about his game,” Paul George, who scored 21 points, said. “His game is so good offensively. His best talent is to be able to make the game easy for everybody.”

It's not like Westbrook is just chucking up 3s usually. He has stints when he gets away from the 3-point line. He has ones when he relies on it.

The Thunder offense began its hottest streak of the season Dec. 16. Maybe it’s no coincidence that was the same day Westbrook began an 18-game stretch during which he took more than three 3-pointers only one time.

Oklahoma City averaged 112.6 points per 100 possessions during those 18, second in the NBA over that time, which spanned a bit more than a month.

“He’s always going to try to take advantage of what the defense is giving him,” Donovan said.

Westbrook, of course, wasn’t the sole reason for Oklahoma City’s Thursday night win, which brought the team to 38-29 on the season, tied for sixth with Minnesota, which owns the tiebreaker on the Thunder, in the Western Conference.

Paul George went for 21 points. Newcomer Corey Brewer scored 17 points on 6 of 11 shooting during his first start. Steven Adams did Steven Adams things, scoring 16 points on 7 of 8 shooting and grabbing 12 rebounds while protecting the rim all night.

The Thunder would have won without Westbrook’s floor game, anyway. The squad built a double-digit lead during the second quarter that it never gave back. But a near perfect performance from the reigning MVP put them over the top.

“That's what we need from him,” Donovan said. “Because when he does do all that — and there's a lot on his plate — it takes our team to a different level.”

Katz is the Thunder beat writer for for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication, and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the Locked on Thunder podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.


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