Russell Westbrook's hero ball saved the Thunder and hid their flawed late game execution

Atlanta HawksMalcolm Delaney, left, tries to get the ball away from Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, right, in the third quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Kyle Phillips)

Oklahoma City’s late game offense is fairly straightforward. Give Russell Westbrook the ball, bunker down in a corner, watch him careen into the lane or settle for a pull-up jumper and try to get into position to grab an offensive rebound.

That hero ball and lack of ball movement has also put them in a bit of a bind throughout this season. Against an Atlanta team that had the worst winning percentage in the entire NBA, their iso offense was a curse, and then a blessing.

With 4:21 left, the Thunder appeared to have the Hawks in pocket, taking a 107-99 lead. However, the Hawks spent the next four minutes successfully chipping away at their deficit, until tying it up at 111. Unfortunately, the Hawks left 11 seconds for Oklahoma City’s Westbrook to play hero.

Westbrook smelled blood in the water, called his own number, dribbled out the clock for nearly 10 seconds and drained a parabolic jumper that left only 1.7 seconds on the clock. It was only enough time for Atlanta to inbound and heave a length of the court shot.

The Thunder’s nail-biter was the culmination of a rare efficient scoring night for Westbrook. However, don’t be fooled by Westbrook’s 30 points on 12-of-17 shooting, 15 assists and buzzer beater against a bad team. It never even should have come down to one shot.

The Thunder are still exhibiting low basketball IQs in close games. In the last five minutes of games where the margin is within five points, Oklahoma City is 27th in assist percentage, which gauges the ratio of field goals assisted on and their points differential per 100 possessions is 22nd. The Nets, Jazz, Pistons, Lakers, Wizards, Clippers, Mavs and the Hawks are the only teams that fared worse.

Westbrook’s shot went in this time, but a pull-up trey by a 30 percent 3-point shooter, as Carmelo Anthony, Paul George and Stevens Adams operated as stone gargoyles and decoys is a relatively poor shot to create out of a timeout. Against stiffer competition the Thunder will still have their work cut out for them in late game situations where they are still an offense in disarray.

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DJ Dunson is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at dunsnchecksin@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter or Facebook.
 

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