Photo by Torrey Purvey
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — There are going to be nights when Russell Westbrook isn’t superman. It doesn’t happen often, but it does take place.
When it does happen, the Oklahoma City Thunder needed other players to step up their game and carry the load. That was the case Monday night with the Thunder taking on the Miami Heat.
Enes Kanter scored 24 points off the bench to lead Oklahoma City to a 97-85 victory over Miami at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
It was Kanter’s second straight game in which he hit double figures in points and rebounds and brought boundless energy off the bench.
“Not just me, but when the second unit comes, coach wants us to bring a lot of energy,” Kanter said. “I think that’s what we were trying to do tonight. Tonight and every night.”
Kanter shot 10 of 12 from the floor and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line while hauling in 10 rebounds in only 21 minutes of action. Victor Oladipo scored 17 points while rookie Domantas Sabonis scored a career-high 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Thunder guard Russell Westbrook had his lowest scoring output of the season with 14 points. But he handed out 11 assists, which was more than all of the Heat starters combined. The Thunder are now off to their best start since the franchise moved to Oklahoma City.
James Johnson paced the Heat with 18 points off the bench. Goran Dragic was held to 11 points on 5 of 12 shooting. Luke Babbitt also added 11 points and four rebounds. Hassan Whiteside tallied five points and 12 boards.
“It’s tough to say what the biggest challenge was,” Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The physicality. Their opportunities in the paint created some rough offensive possession. We simply have to get better and we will. But they really set the pulse of the game.”
The Thunder (6-1) got a scare midway through the first quarter when center Steven Adams hurried off the court pressing his right hand against his side. He went back to the Thunder locker room and returned a few minutes later with his hand taped up.
Even without Adams, the Thunder continued to attack the paint with Kanter. He came off the bench and went at Whiteside and the Heat frontcourt. He posted 10 points and four rebounds in the quarter to give the Thunder a 39-28 advantage.
Miami (2-4) didn’t shoot particularly well in the first half. But they tried to stay within striking distance by running down loose balls and offensive boards. They also were able to take advantage of Oklahoma City turnovers.
Westbrook, who made his first two shots of the game, ended the half missing eight straight. Yet, the Thunder still led 55-47.
Oklahoma City came out of the break on fire. Led by Westbrook and Sabonis, they began the third quarter on a 20-0 run.
Despite the score getting out of hand, the intensity picked up as Westbrook and Dragic both dove for a loose ball and Dragic rolled onto Westbrook. They got up shoving each other and had to be separated.
Miami was unable to get any easy shots against Oklahoma City’s defense. Andre Roberson made life tough for the Heat wing players with suffocating defense.
Kanter then got a pushing match with several members of the Heat, which got Westbrook off the bench screaming encouragements to Kanter.
“We’ve got bigs that are able to compete at a high level,” Westbrook said. “He ain’t going to do the talking, but I’m going to do the talking for him. A lot of my guys don’t talk much. As a leader of this team my job is to support my teammates and instill confidence in those guys and their game.”
The Thunder took a 22-point lead into the fourth quarter. The Heat never made a serious run after that as Westbrook sat out the fourth quarter for the second straight game.
“That’s great, Westbrook said of sitting out the fourth. “If we can do that all year, that would be great with me. Rest is always good, but it’s always good to see that we’re doing a good job of putting teams away early.”
Oklahoma City won the rebound battle 47-41. They also collected 12 more assists than the Heat, who had 12 turnovers and shot 36.9 from the field.
“Guys were missing shots they normally would make,” Whiteside said. “Me being one of them. So it was just a tough night shooting. We are going to come back, regroup and get ready for the Bulls.”
NOTES: Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook was asked before Monday’s game about the shot-blocking prowess of Miami’s Hassan Whiteside and if it would make him more careful about attacking the rim. “I’m not scared of anybody,” Westbrook said. … Miami G Dion Waiters reflected on his trip to the playoffs last year with the Thunder. “I smelled the Finals,” Waiters said. “I was too close, man. That’s why I hate talking about it. I couldn’t even watch it.” … With Oklahoma City guard Cameron Payne still recovering from a fracture in his right foot, coach Billy Donovan said he’s learning how to take care of himself. “He has a great opportunity to focus in on his body,” Donovan said. “Generally your nutrition at that age is predicated on you’re playing all the time. Now that he doesn’t have playing, he is starting to understand a little more about nutrition.”