By Bobby Macey. See this article on DeseretNews.com.
The Utah Jazz felt a boom from the Oklahoma City Thunder at Energy Solutions Arena as they dropped to 41-38 on the season in Tuesday’s 90-80 loss.
The Thunder flew into Salt Lake City after a tough 125-120 loss to the New York Knicks on Sunday night in Oklahoma City. The team came to Utah with a sense of determination and focus to get the win. Coach Scott Brooks spoke with the media and said, “We always seem to find ways to get better after a loss.” The Thunder certainly showed that against the Jazz as Russell Westbrook led the team with his speed and 25 points.
Westbrook spent his college days at UCLA (2006-2008) and was selected as the fourth overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft. Although drafted as a Seattle Supersonic, he’s spent his entire career in Oklahoma City.
Since 2008, Westbrook has become a three-time NBA All-Star and represented the USA national team twice, including one appearance in the 2012 Summer Olympics where he won a gold medal. He’s also currently the NBA leader for the most consecutive games played at over 293.
Since college, Westbrook has become a stronger, faster player who is expected to disrupt the defensive play of opposing teams. Coach Brooks didn’t have anything but positive things to say about his All-Star point guard after Tuesday’s win. “Russell sets the tone all the time. He doesn’t get enough credit for his aggressive play. He helps us win games, a lot of games.” He continued, “The way he plays, he attacks, he puts so much pressure on the defense it opens up shots for Thabo, it opens up shots for Surge, and KD.”
Westbrook not only led the team in scoring against the Jazz, but he contributed five rebounds, three steals and two assists. Over the course of his career he’s averaged 21.3 points per game and just over seven assists per game against the Jazz. Although his assists on Tuesday weren’t as high as his career average against the Jazz, he made up the difference in points.
Westbrook didn’t need match his career average for assists against the Jazz during Tuesday’s game because his friend and teammate, Kevin Durant, had more than enough to spare.
Durant fell one assist short of reaching a trible-double in Tuesday’s game. He helped the Thunder, and Westbrook, by contributing 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. “KD did a good job of spreading out his game. He could have easily taken more shots if he wanted to,” said Coach Brooks. His unselfish play allowed his teammates to thrive against the Jazz and opened up lanes for Westbrook to penetrate and get open jump shots.
As the Thunder fight to improve their record in the Western Conference both Westbrook and Durant seem more focused on playing “Thunder basketball” than stealing the number one spot from the San Antonio Spurs before heading into the playoffs.
Westbrook told the media in a post game interview that being the number one seed is “not that important.” He continued, “the important thing for us is just to be playing the right way.”
Durant also commented on the importance of just playing the Thunder way. “I think for us it’s more important to play good basketball. If we do that with defense and offense we’ll be pretty good,” he said. “Of course we’d like to have the number one seed but I think we’re just focused more on playing good basketball.”
The Thunder (57-21) remain a half game behind the Spurs (57-20) but with Westbrook and Durant on the court, anything could happen as the regular season comes to an end.
Post Game Interviews: