ORLANDO – Russell Westbrook was hunched over at the knees as his teammates walked by. Instead of walking out with them, he sat on the sidelines a little longer.
Before a 13-0 Magic fourth-quarter run that blasted the Thunder’s reserves out of the Amway Center in a 121-108 Thunder loss Wednesday, Westbrook knew the Thunder lost the game well before that.
Westbrook finished with a team-best 37 points and 11 rebounds, but 20 of those points came in a desperation fourth quarter in which the Thunder dug itself a hole well before its ninth road loss of the season was complete.
It’s why Westbrook didn’t immediately walk off the court.
“I just hate losing, man,” Westbrook said. “One thing I hate with a passion is losing and I know that a lot of that is on me. Every night I go out and try to leave everything I have on the floor, knowing that if we don’t succeed, I know I missed something to make sure we put ourselves in position to win the game.
“I haven’t been doing that. We haven’t been winning. Regardless of numbers and all that, it doesn’t really matter. You’ve gotta win games in this league to make an impact and that’s the most important part to me is finding ways to get wins.”
When the Thunder’s offense came unraveled and showed its lack of discipline yet again in the third quarter, offensive rebounds were all it had to find a way to victory. The same ball and player movement seen in the first half went ignored again.
Westbrook tipped the ball to Carmelo Anthony on a defensive rebound and the ball never touched another hand on the offensive possession. Anthony tossed up a quick jump shot. The Thunder, which dominated the offensive glass 20-2 overall, including nine in the third quarter, snagged another and there was second life
Anthony hoisted another quick shot. The Thunder shot 6-of-28 in the third, with Westbrook and Anthony’s quick triggers misfiring to a combined 3-of-12.
After another third-quarter collapse, Thunder coach Billy Donovan said OKC had a hard time maintaining its first-half cohesion. But there was plenty of woeful decision making to go around at the Amway Center.
Jerami Grant was gashing Orlando in the pick-and-roll in the second quarter before Donovan subbed in Steven Adams, only for the 7-footer to pick up his third foul in less than a minute.
When the Thunder was in the midst of going without a field goal for more than five minutes toward the end of the third quarter, rookie Dakari Johnson was getting exposed by Magic center Nikola Vucevic and failing to finish around the rim on two chances.
But ultimately, the Thunder shot 28 shots in the paint in the first half, then shot just six in the third quarter.
“It’s not my rules, it’s the game of basketball rules,” Donovan said. “The game of basketball is like the house in gambling. You may be able to come out on top on a particular day, but over the long haul those habits you have to establish … because the game always wins out in the end over a long period of time. It’s impossible to be a really great basketball team without having the stamina to do the things you’re talking about for 48 minutes. You can’t do it part of the time. You’ve gotta do it all the time.
“And for me as a coach, I feel responsible in terms of being able to help them see that more clearly. And for whatever reason I haven’t been able to help them see that clearly enough, because that’s what we have to do. There’s no getting around it. This is what the game requires, this is what you have to do, this is what the game calls to do.”
“Coach is definitely right,” Westbrook said of habits. “It’s something that all of us individually have to figure out to what that is to be able to not fall back.”
The poor shot selection led to an 87-80 deficit at the end of the third. Then came the fourth-quarter runaway. Former Thunder guard D.J. Augustin’s 3-pointer splashed down, and Westbrook stood stone faced in the huddle. Roberson and Patrick Patterson each showed their palms to the arena ceiling with their arms out.
At his locker after the game, Westbrook was rubbing lotion on his left hand, which he had X-rayed about 20 minutes earlier. The result came back negative, per the Thunder. Just a bruise.
Westbrook said it was “nothing.” The loss hurt clearly hurt more.
“It just started with a sense of urgency, man,” Westbrook said. “And that starts with me. It’s my responsibility to make sure we’re ready to play, we’re ready to play on both sides of the ball.
“To get us out of this funk, we’ve gotta lock in. I take ownership of everything that’s going on because I’ve been here and those standards that we set here in Oklahoma City I have to set them, and set examples. It starts with me and we’re gonna turn this thing around.”