The Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t need four quarters to build a sizable gap between itself and the Miami Heat — and Russell Westbrook only needed 2 1/2 quarters to record his 15th triple-double of the season.
That’s the way Tuesday night went for the Heat.
Miami fell behind by 22 in the first half, trailed by double digits pretty much from early in the second quarter on, and fell to a season-worst 12 games under .500 with a 106-94 loss to Oklahoma City at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Westbrook, trying to become the first player since Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple-double during the regular season, finished with 29 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists in 37 minutes.
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It was the kind of performance Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said could serve as an example for some of his young players.
“From my perspective some of the most impressive plays that he made were diving in front of our bench, [drawing] the charge at the end when they’re up 12,” Spoelstra said. “He’s competing to the very end. Every single possession is the most important possession to him. Great, great lesson to a lot of our young guys from somebody that is really imposing a competitive will in every contest.”
Westbrook clinched the 52nd triple-double of his nine-year career when he grabbed his 10th rebound with 6:39 to play in the third quarter. He was two rebounds shy of a triple-double by halftime.
“He did what he does,” Spoelstra continued. “What defines greatness is consistency and that’s what you can book pretty much every night. We wanted to make it tough on him, but what really hurt us were the other guys particularly in the post. They become a different team, they’re much tougher to beat when [Enes] Kanter gets in a great rhythm. They are tough to beat when Westbrook has that kind of game and other guys really step up.”
The Heat, playing without leading scorer Goran Dragic, who missed his first game since Nov. 26 with back spasms, got 22 points from Josh Richardson, who matched a career-high in scoring with one of his better shooting performances (9 of 16) of the season, and James Johnson and Tyler Johnson combined for 31 points off the bench.
But Miami (10-22) got less than usual production from center Hassan Whiteside, who finished with 12 points and eight rebounds in 31 minutes and failed to record a block for only the third time this season.
“I thought in the fourth quarter he was making better impact plays,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “Not all of them are successful, but you could feel his presence more in the fourth quarter.”
The Thunder (20-12) outscored the Heat 17-5 on second chance opportunities, 58-32 in the paint and out-rebounded the Heat by 14.
Center Steve Adams dominated the offensive glass early and finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. His backup, Enes Kanter, had 19 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
“[Those] guys did a good job of just like boxing me out, and then Westbrook came and got the rebound – simple as that,” Whiteside said. “You try to load up and Westbrook has the ball at the elbow, they wedge themselves in there for offensive rebound positioning. I mean they didn’t have a ton of rebounds.”
Whiteside finished just 4-of-11 shooting for the game and failed to reach double-digits in rebounds for only the third time this season.
“I missed a lot of shots, man,” he said. “I missed a lot of shots I normally make. I think later on I got more adjusted to the way they play.”
Said Richardson: “Every night Hassan has two or three people boxing him out. He’s allowed to not have a superstar game. He’s our best player. We have faith he’ll be back next game.”
Richardson’s performance at least was encouraging for the Heat.
He’s been struggling with his shot all season and battling a sore shooting wrist to boot after missing training camp and the first four games of the regular season with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, and another six games with a sprained left ankle.
“I just felt good on the court,” Richardson said. “I was just attacking. I think I was attacking a little bit more. My knees felt better and my ankles. I wish we could have got the win. So, it didn’t feel that good.”