Coming off back-to-back thrashings at the hands of the Golden State Warriors and Washington Wizards, the Oklahoma City Thunder (32-25) needed to produce a strong effort Wednesday night in order to enter the All-Star break on a high note.
As it turns out, a showdown with the New York Knicks (23-34) afforded them an opportunity to bounce back.
In a 116-105 win over the Knicks at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City's victorious charge with his 27th triple-double of the season as he finished with 38 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport
38 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists AND one final stamp on a win over the Knicks for Russ https://t.co/ORQnOOcODj2017-2-16 05:10:12
According to Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN Stats & Info), Westbrook is on historic pace when it comes to his total number of triple-doubles this season:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Most Triple-Doubles Before All-Star Break 1961-62 Oscar Robertson 28 2016-17 Russell Westbrook 27 via @eliassports2017-2-16 04:17:24
Beyond Westbrook, the big story for the Thunder was their efficiency from beyond the arc. The league's second-worst three-point shooting team, Oklahoma City broke through Wednesday and converted 52.2 percent of its long-range attempts.
Victor Oladipo was a major reason why. Westbrook's backcourt partner finished with 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting (3-of-6 from three), thanks to solid catch-and-shoot efforts combined with an aggressive pursuit of easy buckets in the paint.
Carmelo Anthony paced the Knicks with 30 points on 11-of-20 shooting (6-of-7 from three), but the bulk of his production came during a strong opening statement.
Shortly after he was named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve in place of the injured Kevin Love, Anthony torched Oklahoma City's defense to the tune of 19 points in the first quarter, as the NBA documented on Twitter:
Carmelo's first quarter: -19 PTS -7-8 from the field -4 made 3s 📺: @ESPNNBA https://t.co/jerup1SJrz2017-2-16 03:09:13
That scoring spurt allowed the Knicks to take a 12-point lead into the second quarter, and it represented serious progress after he was held to 18 points against the Thunder on Nov. 28, according to the Norman Transcript's Fred Katz:
Fred Katz @FredKatz
Carmelo Anthony has 19 points, more than he had in the entire game last time the Thunder and Knicks played. It's the first quarter.2017-2-16 03:04:26
The Knicks went on to lead by as many as 17 at one point, but that massive margin proved fleeting.
The Thunder outscored the Knicks by 14 points in the second quarter, which allowed them to enter halftime up a deuce.
As hoops scribe Jared Dubin noted, Westbrook's performance before halftime helped propel the Thunder in front:
Yaya Dubin @JADubin5
Westbrook had 8 points and 7 assists in 7 second quarter minutes. Good lord.2017-2-16 03:43:43
From that point forward, the Knicks struggled with consistency.
The offense devolved to the point where it was dominated by isolations, with off-ball movement and crisp cuts elusive.
While the Knicks' offense sputtered, Oklahoma City's continued to come alive behind Westbrook's brilliance. The Thunder floor general secured his 27th triple-double of the season midway through the third quarter, and it marked one of his quickest of the season, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
Russell Westbrook Quickest Triple-Doubles This Season Dec 31 23:26 vs Clippers Nov 28 25:19 vs Knicks Wednesday 29:00 vs Knicks2017-2-16 04:33:31
Derrick Rose (25 points, seven assists) did his best to keep the Knicks alive with a slew of savvy midair finishes around the rim, but he had no answer for Westbrook on the other end as OKC iced things with a flurry of threes late in the fourth.
Now back in the win column following a pair of devastating defeats, the Thunder will be off until Feb. 24 when the Los Angeles Lakers come to town.
The Knicks, however, will be treated to a much harder post-All-Star slate.
Next up for New York is a meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Feb. 23, and that showdown will precede contests versus the feisty Philadelphia 76ers and loaded Toronto Raptors.
Following the win, Oladipo cited increased aggression as a major reason for the team's ability to break things open, via the team's official Twitter account:
OKC THUNDER @okcthunder
Victor Oladipo with Nick Gallo on @FOXSportsOK after the win. "Aggressive on defense" https://t.co/k1Ohk3j4AC2017-2-16 05:12:54
On the losing side of things, Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek pointed to OKC's improved defense as a reason for his team's downfall following a hot start, as InsideThunder.com's A. Suave Francisco documented on Twitter:
A. Suave Francisco @SuaveFrancisco_
Jeff Hornacek talks about tonight's game. https://t.co/tKbwY9X3Mv2017-2-16 05:15:41
As for Kristaps Porzingis, it turns out an illness may have been to blame for his 4-of-13 shooting night.
According to ESPN.com's Ian Begley, Porzingis told reporters "his stomach ailment resurfaced" and that he vomited in the third quarter.
Finally, Westbrook was asked about playing with Kevin Durant again with the two primed to suit up for the Western Conference All-Stars in New Orleans. However, he didn't reveal much.
"I'm excited about All-Star weekend," he said, per ESPN.com's Royce Young. "Just in general. Just to be able to [be] there and be able to enjoy the opportunity. Humbled by the opportunity to be there and be voted in and I'm looking forward to it."