NBA: Thunder roll on as their big men click

Russell Westbrook has been leading the Oklahoma City Thunder with his all-around intensity this NBA season, and notched his 17th triple-double against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.
Russell Westbrook has been leading the Oklahoma City Thunder with his all-around intensity this NBA season, and notched his 17th triple-double against the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS

They complement Westbrook's all-around brilliance in brushing aside Denver Nuggets

OKLAHOMA CITY • It is easy for opponents of the Oklahoma City Thunder to get caught up in the glitz and fury of Russell Westbrook.

When he is knocking down three-pointers, throwing down dunks and leaping over big men for rebounds, all eyes are on the fiery point guard.

But when the Thunder's frontline is pounding the paint and commanding attention, it is when they really roll over teams as they put defences in difficult situations.

That was the case for the Denver Nuggets in the National Basketball Association (NBA) on Saturday as they took on the Thunder. While Westbrook finished the night with his 17th triple-double of the season, it was the Oklahoma City big men who wore down the undermanned Nuggets in a 121-106 victory at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

"I think on both ends of the floor, we decided to go big," Thunder centre Enes Kanter said. "And we did an amazing job on both ends. Not just offensively. Both ends we put match-up pressure on them."

Westbrook racked up 32 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists. That included going seven-for-12 from three-point range.

  • 17
    Number of triple-doubles Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook has notched this season alone.

Thunder centre Steven Adams added 16 points and four blocked shots and Victor Oladipo scored 15 points on seven-for-19 shooting. Oklahoma City (22-16) won the battle in the paint 56-48.

Wilson Chandler came off the bench to pace the Nuggets with 24 points. However, he scored only five in the second half. Will Barton scored 21 on six-for-11 shooting for Denver (14-23).

"Not having (Nikola) Jokic and (Gary) Harris was a big absence," Denver coach Mike Malone said. "Obviously Gary Harris would have been a key guy to try and guard Russell Westbrook.

"And obviously, offensively, we only had 18 assists tonight. With Jokic out and we play through him so much, that he is able to generate some easy looks for us. But our guys competed. We played hard."

It was the fifth straight game Denver allowed an opponent to score 120 or more points. All have been losses.

The win also ended a three-game losing run for the Thunder who, with Cameron Payne in uniform, were at full strength for the first time this season. It even allowed him and Westbrook to renew their customary dance to start the game.

"Back to the norm, back to the norm," Westbrook said.

With the Nuggets playing with one fewer big man, the Thunder tried to exploit the paint around the goal. Everyone from Kanter to Adams to Domantas Sabonis took turns attacking the rim.

However, they had no answer for Chandler early. The Denver forward terrorised the Thunder defenders with his ability to shoot perimeter shots and also drive to the hoop.

Chandler kept the Nuggets close until the rest of the squad got their offence going.

Neither team played any remnant of good defence in the first half. The game was tied at 60-all at half-time and both shot 48 per cent from the field.

In the second half, the Thunder suddenly realised they had a mismatch when Adams was on the floor. They went to him exclusively late in the third quarter and rode him to an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

"We took some baby steps in the right direction in terms of playing hard and trying to play defence," Malone said. "On the road, when you are undermanned, you have to do it for four quarters."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Thunder roll on as their big men click'. Print Edition | Subscribe