After being down 23-5 to the Miami Heat, it looked like the Thunder may not be able to clinch their eighth playoff spot in the last decade. At least not against the Miami Heat. That was before Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the bench decided to kick things into high gear, finally putting the Heat away 115-93.
Josh Richardson started the game on fire while his teammates chipped in on the action. OKC got off to a 0-of-7 start, not making their first shot from the field until the 4:46 mark of the opening quarter. It simply didn’t look good for them and after beating the team with the best record in the NBA on Saturday, it would be no surprise that they’d underperform two days later to a team with less talent.
But thanks to a 15-4 run to end the first, OKC only trailed 27-21…thanks to the bench.
As a matter of fact, other than Westbrook and George the bench is the reason the Thunder won the game amidst a pretty bad shooting performance through most of the night. It all started with Alex Abrines giving OKC five quick points in the first quarter, followed by Raymond Felton.
Steven Adams had an underwhelming game and Hassan Whiteside seemed to be the big problem. This is the one area of the game that the Thunder lacked in. Miami outscored them 58-32 in the paint and Adams only contributed 7 points on 3-of-6 shooting. It’s not that he wasn’t getting his shots to go in the basket, he just wasn’t getting the shots off due to Whiteside’s elite interior defense and grit.
That’s what makes this game so impressive. After being down by 18 points early in the game, that desperation they played with against Houston flew into Miami on a delayed flight.
In the second half, it was Westbrook, George and the bench who played with that desperation. Westbrook notched his 25th triple-double of the season with 23 points, 18 rebounds, and 13 assists. George tallied 27 points and the bench scored 41. Jerami Grant, who most Thunder fans want in the starting lineup in place of Carmelo Anthony, scored 17 points. Twelve of those points came in the fourth quarter while the Thunder put the Heat away, outscoring them 39-12.
It certainly wasn’t pretty through 75 percent of the game but the Thunder got it done and now, they’ve clinched a playoff spot for the eighth time in ten years. The only team with more playoff appearances in the last decade are the San Antonio Spurs.
The fight isn’t over quite yet, one game remains and it’ll be in front of a presumably energized crowd due to their recent accomplishments. The Utah Jazz sits just a half-game in front of the Thunder for fourth place, which is the last spot for homecourt advantage through at least the first round of the playoffs. Luckily, the Thunder will close the regular season against the Memphis Grizzlies (22-59).
Feature image: Zach Beeker/ OKC Thunder.