Defensive Effort and Westbrook Down The Stretch Saved The Day Against Miami

Neither team shot over 40 percent for the majority of the game and for the home team, there seemed to be no inspiration until the final stages of the game. Although OKC pulled out the 105-99 victory over the Miami Heat, there’s still the appearance that this team is too cool to play hard. The Thunder are taking this “just win” narrative a little too seriously.

The month of March should be a time of hustle, especially when you’re in Oklahoma City’s predicament, just 1.5 games from not even making the playoffs. When you have a big three as versatile and experienced as OKC’s, there shouldn’t be any doubt regarding them making the postseason but now, despite the win, nerves are at an all-time high. The harsh reality is that the Thunder will either make it far in the playoffs or get the boot in the first round. It’s all dependant on the matchup.

Back to Friday night’s game, though. Russell Westbrook won the game for OKC. While scoring a game-high 29 points and 17 in the fourth quarter, he got OKC’s shooting percentage to 42.9 percent for the game. Like we’ve seen multiple times, no one could defend Westbrook in the final stages of the game. Josh Richardson, who did a spectacular job as Paul George’s primary defender, switched over to guard Russ down the stretch and the task of guarding the reigning MVP was too daunting for the Edmond, OK native.

Richardson was Paul George’s primary defender throughout the game and George finished with 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting. His 12 points came from his 6-of-7 shooting night from the free throw line.

The absence of Hassan Whiteside was so detrimental to the Heat. So much so that Steven Adams compiled 24 points and 12 rebounds with ease. His point total would’ve been better if he would’ve shot better than 6-for-11 from the free throw line.

OKC’s gameplan was direct from the moment the Heat announced that Hassan Whiteside wouldn’t be playing and the plan was to feed Adams the ball as much as possible, even if it becomes repetitive until the Heat actually stops him. What’s interesting is that they never really did. Adams honestly could have (should have) had 30 or more points but the third quarter presented an obstacle that had the Thunder trailing at one point.

Despite a short-handed Heat team without their biggest inside threat and second-best player, it took a crunch-time Westbrook onslaught to pull out the six-point victory. Seventeen of Westbrook’s 29 points came in the final minutes of the final quarter, where he simply couldn’t miss.

A win is a win, but will this lack of urgency during the course of a 48-minute game hurt the Thunder in the long run?

Things will only get more challenging for them in the near future. The Portland Trail Blazers, who are 3-0 against the Thunder right now and currently sit third in the Western Conference, one game in front of OKC will be in town on Sunday.

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