(Photo by Torrey Purvey)
By Michael Kinney
OKLAHOMA CITY — Before his Phoenix Suns took the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder, coach Earl Watson was asked how to stop Russell Westbrook. All he could say was if there was an answer to that question, there would be no need to ask it anymore.
As if on cue, Westbrook then proceeded to produce one of his most spectacular games of the season on Saturday in leading the Thunder to an 114-101 victory over the Suns at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Just days after saying he was tired of hearing about triple-doubles, Westbrook posted his 13th of the season by pouring in 26 points, 11 rebounds and 22 assists, which is a career high. It’s only the fifth time since 1983 that a player had a triple-double and reach at least 20 points and 20 assists. Even those numbers amazed the normally understated Westbrook.
“I never know what may happen throughout games, good or bad,” Westbrook said. “My job is to go out there and compete at a high level. I’ve been blessed to play this game and every night I leave it on the floor. “Sometimes some good things happen, sometimes some bad things happen. That’s the nature of the game.”
Thunder center Steven Adams added 19 points and six rebounds and Enes Kanter came off the bench to score 12 points as Oklahoma City ended a two-game losing streak and raised its record to 16-11.
The Suns were led by Devon Booker, who scored a game-high 31 points on 11-of-22 shooting from the field. Eric Bledsoe posted 12 points and four assists as Phoenix dropped to 8-19.
“Our young guys cane out,” Watson said. “We really like our young guys. Our young guys have a significant impact on our future and they came out and played the right way to end the game.”
The Suns complied a total of 16 assists, which was six less than Westbrook by himself.
With shooting guard Victor Oladipo not playing for the Thunder, different players took turns scoring at the start. Four players had at least five points as Oklahoma City led 30-20.
“My teammates did a great job of spacing and catching and finishing and making some shots,” Westbrook said. “My job is to find those guys. The ball is in my hands a lot and it’s my job to find those guys and make it easy for those guys to be successful.”
The normally prolific scoring Suns were out of sync the entire first half. They shot only 34 percent from the field and made only 4 of 13 3-point attempts.
The lone bright spot for the Suns in the first half came from reserve Alex Len. He came off the bench to post 10 points and six rebounds in nine minutes.
Yet that wasn’t enough to keep the Thunder from taking a 54-39 lead into halftime. One of the reasons is Oklahoma City’s ability to shut down Phoenix in the open court. They had zero fast-break points in the game.
“We got back in transition,” Westbrook said. “They are a fast team. That’s how they score a lot of their points. They get a lot of shots up in transition. I think tonight we did a great job of just getting back and loading up and make them score in the half-court.”
The third quarter was like a duel between the teams’ explosive guards. If Westbrook drained a 3-pointer, Booker came back knocked with one from long distance himself. There didn’t seem to be a spot on the floor that Booker couldn’t hit from.
But while Booker left his imprint on the game in the scoring column, Westbrook made sure his was felt in every aspect. In the third quarter alone, he racked up 12 points, five assists, three rebounds and only one turnover as Oklahoma City went ahead 89-69.
Westbrook kept piling up assists and made each one seem more exciting than the next in the fourth. The Suns’ defense fell apart and the Thunder pulled away.
“He keeps putting up phenomenal numbers,” Phoenix center Tyson Chandler said of Westbrook. “I think it really comes down to heart, passion and will. Every second he is coming full speed, he’s giving 100 percent. He is putting his will over the game.”