Westbrook drives Thunder past Nuggets
OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook wasn’t deferring to anyone Monday night.
Westbrook attacked and attacked and attacked some more in the fourth quarter, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star finished at the free-throw line, hitting a foul shot with 2.3 seconds left to help lift the Thunder to a 95-94 win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook scored 16 of his season-high 38 points in the fourth quarter as the Thunder (15-15) came back from a 10-point deficit in the final 12 minutes.
“Just play, man,” Westbrook said of when he decides to attack.
The reigning NBA MVP attempted just three 3-pointers, none before the final seven minutes of the game.
In the fourth quarter, he was 7 of 12 from the floor, making him 16 of 28 for the game.
“Russ definitely had the hot hand,” Thunder forward Paul George said. “We were fine with him taking the game over. We’re living on his back tonight.”
On the Thunder’s final possession, Westbrook drove to the basket against Denver’s Torrey Craig, losing the ball briefly in the lane before regathering and being fouled by Craig on the way up.
Craig pulled his jersey up over his face and Nuggets coach Mike Malone looked to the scoreboard with his mouth agape.
“At the end of the game tonight, I didn’t think we had great poise or great execution,” Malone said.
The lack of poise included earlier in that final Oklahoma City possession, when the Nuggets had an opportunity to foul to set up a 2-for-1 situation with the game tied.
“We blew that opportunity,” Malone said, noting that Jamal Murray chose not to foul on that possession.
The Nuggets had a chance to win even after Westbrook’s free throws, but Gary Harris’ desperation shot at the buzzer was wide after Denver nearly was called for a five-second violation on the inbounds play.
Denver center Nikola Jokic didn’t think the game should have come down to that possession, not with the lead the Nuggets built early in the fourth after trailing by as many as 15 in the first half.
“We didn’t need to wait for the last shot to win the game,” Jokic said. “I think we could have won it with like three minutes to go, because we had the lead. We just needed to push a little bit. It’s no one’s fault, but I just think we had an opportunity to finish the game earlier.”
Instead, Denver scored just one basket on its last seven possessions, opening the door for Westbrook and the Thunder.
Westbrook hadn’t shot better than 50 percent from the field since Oct. 27 and hadn’t done it while attempting more than 20 shots since late last season against the Nuggets.
Alex Abrines was the only other Thunder player to score in double figures, finishing with 11 points.
Harris led the Nuggets (16-14) with 17 points. Trey Lyles added 15 and Craig 14 for Denver.
The Nuggets have alternated wins and losses in their past six games.
While the Thunder continue to struggle for long stretches on both ends, they have won seven of their last 10 games.
“We had that stretch in the first half where we showed what we can do, then we had that lull in the third quarter, and that’s not the defensive team we’ve been all year,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “We have that ability, we’ve just got to get that consistency.”
Harris hit a long shot that was initially called a 3-pointer with just more than eight minutes remaining.
Donovan asked for a review of the call, and referee Ken Mauer agreed, but the action continued for about four minutes before a stoppage. By the time the stoppage came, Mauer and Donovan forgot about the review until reminded just before the timeout ended.
Mauer quickly determined that the shot should have been a 2-pointer, and the point was taken off. It wound up mattering plenty.
NOTES: Thunder C Steven Adams missed his second consecutive game due to a concussion. Adams went through some workouts Monday morning but remains in the league’s concussion protocol. Rookie Dakari Johnson started in his place and scored eight points. ... For the second consecutive game since returning from an ankle injury, Denver C Nikola Jokic came off the bench. The Nuggets got a scare in the fourth when Jokic briefly had to leave the game after stepping on a Thunder player’s foot, but he soon returned. ... Nuggets G Gary Harris went down after being fouled by Thunder G Russell Westbrook under the basket in the third quarter. Harris stayed down for several moments, grabbing his head, but remained in the game. ... Seven of Oklahoma City’s past nine games were decided by six points or fewer. The Thunder are 6-1 in those games.