OKLAHOMA CITY — The Nets got the full “Russell Westbrook Experience” Friday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena as the leading NBA MVP candidate recorded yet another triple-double with 30 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists in 34 minutes. The ironic part is that it was a late Thunder run with Westbrook on the bench that sent the Nets to their third straight loss, 124-105.
Westbrook sat out for 6:45 from late in the third quarter until midway through the fourth, and that’s when a 17-4 Thunder run, including seven points by Enes Kanter, turned a three-point game into a 101-85 lead with 9:44 left.
After the Nets scored the next four points, Westbrook returned with 8:14 left, and the Thunder (8-5) never led by fewer than nine the rest of the way.
“I felt like we stopped moving the ball offensively and stopped making the extra pass and that fueled their transition,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said of that stretch. “I just think defensively, we’ve slipped these past three games.”
Westbrook got 26-point, six-assist support from Victor Oladipo. Steven Adams added 15 points and Kanter and Joffrey Lauvergne had 13 apiece.
The Nets (4-8) had six double-figures scorers, topped by Brook Lopez, who had 14 of his 22 in the opening period. But the Nets were pounded on the boards 46-30 and had no one with more than five rebounds. They also were outscored 62-42 in the paint.
Assessing Westbrook’s performance, Atkinson said: “He hit a ton of mid-range shots. He’s an excellent player. I thought he hit some tough shots. We weren’t running around double-teaming him. Giving them extra possessions [with offensive rebounds] gave them a bunch of transition points.”
The Nets hoped to force Westbrook to shoot from outside, but he was 13-for-21 with only one missed three-pointer.
“Yeah, he had too many paint attempts, too many rim attempts,” Atkinson said. “A bunch of them came in transition. He did a good job of not settling. Even though we were back trying to protect the paint, he’s still coming. When he does get there, we only had two blocked shots tonight.”
For the first quarter at least, the most prolific scorer on the floor was the Nets’ reconstituted Lopez. The 7-foot center had hit three three-pointers in his career before Atkinson asked him to work on that part of the game to stretch the floor this season. In the first quarter, the Nets made a phenomenal eight of 10 three-point attempts, including a 4-for-5 effort by Lopez, whose 14 points helped the Nets to a 40-34 lead.
“He has embraced it beyond my expectations,” Atkinson said before the game of Lopez’s long-range shooting. “Usually, these things are incremental, but he’s embraced it and he’s comfortable there. It’s like his new toy.”
Lopez was resting early in the second quarter when the Nets’ bench put together a 13-6 run behind five points from Lopez’s replacement, Justin Hamilton, to take a 53-43 lead. That was where Westbrook drew the line.
After a layup by Oladipo, Westbrook scored the next 10 points in a 21-7 Thunder run that built a 64-60 lead just before the Nets drew within three at halftime.
The Nets got within two points early in the third, but Westbrook again revved his turbo-charged engine to score two baskets in an 8-0 burst that pushed it back to 76-66, adding his 10th assist at the end of that run. Moments later, he grabbed his 10th rebound to achieve a triple-double.
It was quite a show. As Lopez said of Westbrook, “He’s been doing it on a nightly basis, which is just so impressive.”