Thunder's Big Three gelling better in sixth straight win

OKLAHOMA CITY • Not long ago, there was tension between Carmelo Anthony and the Oklahoma City Thunder, with questions lingering over whether they would be able to figure out how to make things work with forward Paul George and point guard Russell Westbrook on offence.

Those questions faded away recently as the small forward fit into a new role in the offence while scoring became easier for them.

On Wednesday, that continued as they defeated the Toronto Raptors 124-107 in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

"When you're trying to play and figure all that out, it just takes time," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of his Big Three gelling.

"They're great guys, they're unselfish, they want to play for each other."

George scored 33 points and Westbrook added 30 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds. Anthony and Steven Adams had 18 points apiece as Oklahoma City's starting five shot 63 per cent from the field.

The 81 points between the Thunder's Big Three were the most they have combined for as team-mates.

The haul follows Oklahoma City's bid to make Anthony - who has excelled in isolation situations during his 14-year career - more efficient by attempting more catch-and-shoot jumpers and three-pointers.

In doing so, Westbrook is able to dominate the ball more on offence rather than defer to Anthony or George.

"I think (Westbrook's) much more effective by doing (that)," Anthony told ESPN. "We accept it. And by that, he's able to just play his game, relax and do what he does best. We need that.

"We need that Russ out there. Not the one who defers to us. Let us figure it out."

The Thunder shot 52.9 per cent at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, topping 50 per cent for the fourth time in five games.

The win was their sixth in a row. Before this streak, the Thunder (20-15) had not won more than three consecutive games all season.

While their offence has come together during this stretch, it is their defence that has helped lift them in the last two wins over Houston and Toronto. A big part of that fell on Andre Roberson, who mostly stifled DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors star finished with 15 points on four-of-16 shooting. C.J. Miles led Toronto (23-10) with 20 points off the bench.

"Collectively, their team is hitting on all cylinders on both ends of the floor," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2017, with the headline 'Thunder's Big Three gelling better in sixth straight win'. Print Edition | Subscribe