SALT LAKE CITY — Following Tuesday's win in EnergySolutions Arena, Oklahoma City's coach Scott Brooks said it all.
"We always seem to find ways to get better after a loss."
When the Thunder flew into Salt Lake City, it was after a tough Sunday night 125-120 loss to the New York Knicks in Oklahoma City. That loss inspired a sense of determination and focus from the Thunder, and it showed against the Jazz as Russell Westbrook led the team with his speed and 25 points.
Westbrook spent his college days at UCLA (2006-2008) and was selected as the 4th overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft. Although drafted as a Seattle Supersonic, he's spent his entire career in Oklahoma City.
Since 2008, Westbrook has become a three-time NBA All-Star and represented the USA National Team twice, including one appearance in the 2012 Summer Olympics where he won a gold medal. He's also currently the NBA leader for the most consecutive games played at more than 293.
Westbrook has become a stronger, faster player who is expected to disrupt the defensive play of opposing teams. Coach Brooks didn't have anything but positive things to say about his All-Star point guard after Tuesday's win.
"Russell sets the tone all the time. He doesn't get enough credit for his aggressive play. He helps us win games, a lot of games," Brooks said. "The way he plays, he attacks, he puts so much pressure on the defense it opens up shots for Thabo, it opens up shots for Surge, and KD."
Westbrook not only led the team in scoring against the Jazz, but also contributed five rebounds, three steals and two assists. Over the course of his career he has averaged 21.3 points per game and more than seven assists per game against Utah.
Westbrook did not need to match his career average for assists against the Jazz during Tuesday's game. His friend and teammate, Kevin Durant, had more than enough to spare.
Durant fell one assist short of reaching a triple-double on Tuesday. He helped the Thunder, and Westbrook, by contributing 21 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.
"KD did a good job of spreading out his game. He could have easily taken more shots if he wanted to," coach Brooks said. Durant's unselfish play allowed his teammates to thrive against the Jazz and opened up lanes for Westbrook to penetrate and get open jump shots.
As the Thunder fight to improve their record in the Western Conference, both Westbrook and Durant seem more focused on playing "Thunder basketball" than stealing the number one spot from the San Antonio Spurs before heading into the playoffs.
After the game, Westbrook said taking the no. 1 seed is "not that important." He continued, "The important thing for us is just to be playing the right way."
Durant agreed. "I think for us it's more important to play good basketball. If we do that with defense and offense we'll be pretty good," he said. "Of course we'd like to have the number one seed, but I think we're just focused more on playing good basketball."
The Thunder (57-21) remain a half game behind the Spurs (57-20) but with Westbrook and Durant on the court, anything could happen as the regular season comes to an end.