Russell Westbrook continued his season-long offensive rampage on Tuesday, setting a new career high with 58 points, including 30 after halftime. Unfortunately, even that monster effort wasn’t enough to push the Oklahoma City Thunder over the finish line.
Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe combined for 66 points, and newly acquired center Jusuf Nurkic came up with several big buckets late in the fourth quarter, giving the Portland Trail Blazers just enough firepower to outlast Westbrook for a 126-121 win over the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
While Westbrook exerted his typical dominance over the Thunder offense, scoring nearly as many points (58) as the rest of his teammates combined (63) and dishing the only nine assists logged by any Thunder starter, Portland benefited from a more egalitarian approach. Seven Blazers scored in double figures, led by Crabbe’s 23 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including a 5-for-7 mark from 3-point land, to go with four rebounds and two assists in 28 minutes off Terry Stotts’ bench.
Crabbe and Lillard (22 points, eight assists, three rebounds) carried the Portland offense through the first three quarters, and McCollum (eight of his 21 in the fourth) and Nurkic (eight of his 17 in the fourth, including a big basket with 31 seconds left to put the Blazers up four) shouldered the load late for the Blazers, who gave up 40 points in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 14 before coming back strong. They have now won three straight to improve to 27-35, and sit just 1 1/2 games behind the idle Denver Nuggets in the race for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed, with 12 of their final 20 games coming in the friendly confines of the Moda Center.
Westbrook made 21 of his 39 field-goal attempts to surpass his previous career-high of 54, set in April of 2015. (The Thunder lost that game, too.) But despite staking OKC to a six-point halftime lead with 28 pre-intermission points, carrying them back late in the game after they’d fallen prey to a third-quarter Portland blitz, and scoring more points than any player to wear a Thunder or Seattle SuperSonics player since Fred Brown 43 years ago — and yes, that means it’s more than Kevin Durant ever scored for OKC — Russ wound up adding another L to the tally for his most trigger-happy nights:
The Thunder are 4-8 this season when Westbrook shoots 30 or more times.
In falling short on such a massive evening, Westbrook stands alongside another famous offensive juggernaut:
As awe-inspiring as Westbrook’s output was, the Thunder just could not get enough stops to make it stand up. After a first quarter that saw Oklahoma City leap out to a 40-29 lead behind 12 points from Westbrook and nine from reserve big man Enes Kanter, the Blazers absolutely incinerated the Thunder defense, scoring 97 points over the final three quarters and shooting 58.7 percent as a team for the rest of the game.
“We’re not good enough to take nights off defensively,” Westbrook said after the game, the sixth in the last 10 outings in which Oklahoma City has allowed at least 110 points.
Crabbe and McCollum sparked a second-half surge to give Portland an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma City trailed by nine when Westbrook, who’d already scored 41 points, returned from his regularly scheduled rest with 8:28 to go in regulation. He promptly resumed exploding, shoving the ball down the Blazers’ throat for three straight baskets in the paint to cut the deficit to five.
After Portland parried to reinflate the lead, OKC once again drew within striking distance, as Westbrook knocked down a pull-up 15-footer, stole the ball from Lillard, and fed Andre Roberson for a fast-break dunk that made the score 112-111 with 3:45 to go. Westbrook just kept pouring it on, earning his way to the free throw line. He tied the score at 114 by making the front end of a pair of free throws with 2:09 left … but missed the back half, one of just three misses in 16 trips to the foul line for the All-Star point guard on the night, to prevent the Thunder from taking the lead.
Trailing by two with 55 seconds left, Oklahoma City had a chance to tie or move ahead. But Westbrook missed a 15-footer, and after Taj Gibson corralled the offensive rebound to give the Thunder another crack, Westbrook quickly launched an open but early-shot-clock 3-pointer that went awry, allowing Portland to dodge danger.
After a tough interior bucket by Nurkic on the other end followed by a triple by the just-returned-from-injury Victor Oladipo (on a honey of an after-timeout play drawn up by Thunder coach Billy Donovan, we might add) and a pair of clutch free throws by McCollum, Oklahoma City trailed 122-119 with 15 seconds to go. Once again, the Thunder were able to get a clean look coming out of the timeout, with Westbrook racing to the ball and having a few feet of room without a Blazer defender in his field of vision.
But again, he went kind of early in casting off from deep, and his 28-footer caught iron. Nurkic snared the rebound, his eighth of the game, forcing OKC to foul, and Nurkic and Lillard made their free throws to seal the win.
“Yeah, just missed ’em,” he said after the game. “Made ’em all game, missed that one. But … it’s alright.”
Instead, the Thunder lost for the fourth straight game to fall to 35-29. They sit in seventh place in the West, a full five games behind the Utah Jazz in the race for the conference’s No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.
Losing on a night where Westbrook goes a special brand of ballistic hurts, but it also lays bare the reality of the situation for the Thunder. When Westbrook can activate his supporting cast, elevating them to the point where they’re performing on his level, the Thunder can hang with very good teams. When that support’s not there, though — whether because Westbrook’s too focused on trying to carry the load himself, or because his teammates aren’t cashing in on the opportunities he creates, or because the latter’s led to the former, or whatever — then Oklahoma City struggles, even when they get superheroic production from one of the league’s top MVP candidates.
As Nurkic said after the game, “I’ll give him 80 as long as we get [the] win.” The hope in OKC is that Westbrook won’t literally have to score that many for the Thunder to make some noise down the stretch and in the postseason.