Russell Westbrook steals and finishes to seal Thunder win over Bulls
The Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls are both playing with lineups diminished by injury, trying to improve their postseason position without several of the most accomplished players in the NBA. The difference between the two, of course, is that the Thunder have Russell Westbrook. He was the difference in Sunday’s nationally televised matchup between the two teams, just as he has been so many times for OKC over the past few weeks.
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Westbrook overcame a rough start to finish strong with 36 points (12-of-27 FG, 10-of-12 FT), 11 rebounds, and six assists in the Thunder’s 109-100 win over the visiting Bulls. This was a close game throughout until OKC began to take control in the final minute and change. The outcome began to look clearer with 75 seconds left and the Thunder up just one point, when Westbrook stole an Aaron Brooks entry pass intended for Nikola Mirotic and sprinted to finish at the other end:
The MVP candidate Westbrook had a hand in OKC’s scores on their next two possessions, finding Anthony Morrow for a three-pointer (after a nice strip by Dion Waiters on E’Twaun Moore) and simply out-running Chicago for a lay-in as they were trying to foul him. These plays served as useful reminders that Westbrook’s insane production has not been hollow — he has continually made big plays for wins and to keep the Thunder in eventual losses. His highlights from this victory are worth a watch:
Oklahoma City has needed every one of them, too. Sunday’s win broke a tie with the New Orleans Pelicans for the West’s final playoff spot, putting the Thunder a half-game up at 37-29. With 16 games left, it looks increasingly likely that this race will go down to the final days of the regular season. The return of Kevin Durant either this week or next would certainly help the Thunder move further ahead.
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Chicago broke its own virtual tie in the standings with the loss, dropping a half-game behind the Toronto Raptors for third-place in the East. The Bulls are also now just a game ahead of the Washington Wizards for fourth, which means that they very easily could lose homecourt advantage for the first round. While the Bulls’ excellent frontcourt has kept them competitive — Nikola Mirotic (a team-high 27 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter) and Pau Gasol (20 points and eight boards) were the stars on Sunday — the struggles of the backcourt indicated how much this team needs Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler back in the lineup.
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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter!