Russell Westbrook scored a career-high 54 points in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 116-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers on April 12.
Fifty-four points. Usually its an accomplishment but this year over 9 times someone has scored 50+ points
Westbrook scoring that many during a game with playoff implications gives NBA fans an idea not just how big an MVP and scoring title candidate he is. He’s also the type of player who’ll do whatever it takes for his team to win, with or without his sidekick, Kevin Durant.
Westbrook kicked it into high gear on Sunday evening, hitting a wide variety of shots while his Thunder (43-37) were fighting for their playoff lives.
However, so were the 37-43 Indiana Pacers.
We shouldn’t also overlook a very interesting sub-plot that arose during the Thunder vs. Pacers game on April 12—Westbrook got his 16th technical foul of the season, resulting in an automatic one-game suspension.
That call right there will make or break the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season.
Recapping Russell Westbrook’s Career-High 54-Point Game on April 12
Westbrook got off to a hot start against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. He scored 22 points in the first quarter alone on 9-of-14 shooting, per Wheat Hotchkiss of Pacers.com.
According to The Oklahoman (via NewsOK.com), Westbrook also added four assists in the first period. By halftime, he boosted his point total to 29 on a 12-of-21 shooting clip. He was on pace for a 60-point outburst.
As great as Westbrook was playing, so were the Pacers. Hotchkiss points out Indiana shot a respectable 54.8 percent in the first half to lead by five at the break.
Despite the Pacers leading for a majority of the second half, Westbrook would spark Oklahoma City’s comeback time and time again.
The third quarter was Westbrook’s worst of the game. He shot just 2-of-9 from the floor, per The Oklahoman.
However, he was far from finished.
When Indiana threatened to pull away at 88-81 in the fourth quarter, Westbrook scored seven consecutive points to knot the score on a breakaway slam with just under eight minutes left to play, per Pacers.com.
The Pacers then went on a 12-0 run of their own, sparked by shooting guard Rodney Stuckey’s triple from the left corner and rejuvenated George Hill’s three-point play, per Hotchkiss.
It was during this spurt when referee Ed Malloy teed up Westbrook.
The Oklahoman describes how the Thunder’s All-Star point guard received his 16th technical of the 2014-15 NBA season:
With the Thunder still in the game trailing by five with 5:56 left Russell Westbrook was called for a foul at the top of the key.
(Pacers power forward) Luis Scola and Westbrook had collided, Westbrook drew the whistle and didn’t agree. He chirped a little at referee Ed Malloy. Malloy, peeved at the argument, nailed Westbrook with a technical.
Under NBA rules, a 16th technical foul merits a one-game suspension. In Westbrook’s case, he is expected to be suspended for the Thunder’s home game against the Portland Trail Blazers on April 13, per The Oklahoman.
“I got no view on it,” Westbrook told The Oklahoman when asked to comment on his 16th technical foul. “He (Malloy) called it, and we’ll move on.”
He then would score the Thunder’s eight points during a one-minute stretch late in the fourth quarter to trim what was once an 11-point deficit to just three.
Westbrook converted on a three-point play, drained a three-pointer and made a fastbreak layup during that run, per The Oklahoman.
The Pacers would be up to the task.
Indiana spread its options on offense on its next few possessions. Hill made a nifty behind-the-back pass to a streaking Roy Hibbert for the slam after Westbrook’s layup. Hill then converted on a floater and Pacers swingman C.J. Miles, who led his team’s cause with 30 points, buried a triple from the right corner to put the game out of reach, per Hotchkiss.
Hill wound up with 19 points and seven assists while Hibbert finished with 17 points and 10 boards, per Pacers.com.
On the other hand, here’s Wesbrook’s gaudy state line, per ESPN: 54 points on 21-of-43 shooting, 5-of-15 three-point shooting, nine rebounds and eight assists. Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter added 16 points and 13 points, respectively, for the Thunder.
At the end of the game, Westbrook told The Oklahoman he pays no attention to what his critics have to say about his shot selection:
I don’t really give a damn what nobody think to tell you the truth. I really don’t care. Every night I go out and compete harder than anyone else in the league.
I’m proud of (that) and my teammates don’t have a problem with it. I’m good with that.
The Parting Shot
The biggest takeaway from Westbrook’s 54-point explosion on Sunday is this: He will do whatever it takes to win.
He also had every reason to.
Entering the showdown against the Pacers, the Thunder were in a tie with the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
With the Rockets’ 121-114 win over the Pelicans, New Orleans and Oklahoma City remained in a tie with identical 43-37 records through April 13. However, the Pelicans own the tie-breaker.
This is where Westbrook’s suspension will prove to be very critical.
The fourth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers will be a very tough opponent for the Thunder on Monday. Oklahoma City certainly picked a bad time to go 3-7 in its last 10 games.
A loss to the Blazers will prove to be a huge step backward in the Thunder’s playoff aspirations. Both Oklahoma City and New Orleans will face the lottery-bound Minnesota Timberwolves in one of their final two games, so that’s virtually a gimme for both squads.
Now, if the Thunder lose to the Blazers on Monday without Westbrook, they must hope the Timberwolves pull off a massive upset on the same day against the Pelicans. New Orleans still has to hurdle the defending NBA champions San Antonio Spurs in their season finale on Wednesday.
On an individual scope, Westbrook fortified his MVP candidacy with the explosion against the Pacers. However, Westbrook injuring his right hand and consequently missing the Thunder’s next 14 games in late 2014 could very well set him back, especially with the play of James Harden.
Naturally, if the Thunder bow out of playoff contention, Westbrook will kiss his MVP chances goodbye.
And, with his impending one-game suspension, he could also concede the NBA’s scoring title to Harden. As of April 13, Westbrook leads the NBA in scoring with a 27.9 points-per-game average while Harden is not far behind with 27.5.
We can be sure Westbrook wouldn’t mind losing out on the MVP and scoring plums. What will gnaw at his conscience is the Thunder possibly missing the postseason for the first time in five years.
Note: Unless otherwise specified, all stats are current as of April 13 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.