OKLAHOMA CITY — Of all the shots that left Russell Westbrook’s hands Friday night, the final attempt was the one that mattered most.
With the Thunder down 110-109 to the Phoenix Suns and with only 13.5 seconds remaining, an inbounds came to Westbrook. Was there any doubt of the end result?
Westbrook took his defender one-on-one, went straight at the rim and rolled a layup off the backboard and into the hoop. Thunder lead by one. Moments later, they walked away with a 113-110 win to improve to 2-0.
Westbrook took 16 shots in the first half. But that was nothing. Chump change.
He chucked up another 24 in the second half, alone. Four more in overtime. He finished with 51 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists on a career-high 44 field-goal attempts.
He’s the first player to score 50 points in a triple-double since, you may have heard of him, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975.
“It was good,” a subdued Steven Adams said. “Standard.”
Westbrook is capable of doing it all on any night, but if he has to on every night, it’s no positive for Oklahoma City. In fact, that was the case Friday, too, when Westbrook tuned into Do What I Want mode upon second-half entry almost by necessity.
The Thunder turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, giving up mismatches and transition buckets on the other end as a result. So, Westbrook took the ball in his hands for the remainder of the contest.
It wasn’t all shooting.
He prodded the occasional pick-and-roll. He found Adams down low a few times. He bounced to Andre Roberson on a baseline cut and swung to him for a 3 on the right wing. He skipped to Victor Oladipo for a 3-point attempt in the corner.
But even if it didn’t always finish with Westbrook, it seemed always to start with him, if only because that’s how the Suns wanted it.
“We’re living with that,” Suns coach Earl Watson said. “We’ll live with that many shots. Our team played great.”
The Suns goaded Westbrook into long 2s for much of the game. And with the Thunder struggling to capitalize on other sources of offense, he ended up attempting 15 mid-range jumpers.
“I think from an offensive standpoint, Russell took what was there,” Donovan said. “Now, he’s gonna go back and look at the film and say, ‘Some shots here, shots there, I would’ve liked to have that one back, a couple on some two-for-ones.’ But overall, that’s what they were kinda giving him. They were giving him that shot.”
It was exhausting just to watch, let alone produce. Westbrook has been around for nine years now, and he’s never appeared tired. Assuming fatigue with him is like questioning if birds get tired flying all those miles south over the winter.
“If you wanna win, you don’t think about being tired,” Westbrook said. “To me, being tired is a mind thing. It’s in your mind. You’ve gotta go out and compete at a high level and leave it on the floor.”
But that workload isn’t something even Westbrook can commit to every night, no matter his mindset, no matter the majesty he produced Friday. And he’s not arguing he should average 44 attempts a game, either.
“I still gotta do a better job of finding open guys, getting them more shots,” he said “But we came out with the win tonight and we can figure that out for the next game.”
You can’t merely comb the Thunder box score, fixate on “44,” and attribute Westbrook’s ways to overzealousness. He was just 4-of-16 in the first half, when the Thunder were struggling to generate offense.
He shot an efficient 13-of-28 in the second and overtime. He may have pulled up a bunch, but many of those late-game attempts were around the rim, especially in overtime.
“I thought we took some of those shots when they were open,” Donovan said. “But I thought we got it to the rim when we needed to.”