MINNEAPOLIS – What a whirlwind. A record-breaking moment, followed by four minutes and 16 seconds of madness and mayhem, then an hour or so later, a flight to the next city, to try it all over again against a different Northwest Division rival.
Shortly after the Thunder’s unbelievable 18-4 burst to close a 106-105 win over the Denver Nuggets, in which Russell Westbrook recorded his 42nd triple-double of the season, the team embarked for Minneapolis to play its final road game, and second-to-last game overall, of the 2016-17 regular season. With its playoff position locked up – the sixth seed in the West to face the Houston Rockets in Round 1, the Thunder doesn’t need a win in Minnesota to jump spots in the standings. What it does need, is to continue playing good basketball.
“It’s still doing what we do every day, talking about getting back in transition, the little stuff that we know they like to do,” reserve point guard Semaj Christon said.
Maintaining standards and playing at a high level are important qualities for this team, regardless of who or who doesn’t play on Tuesday night in Minnesota. Alex Abrines re-joined the team at practice on Monday, but his status and that of his teammates is unclear at this time. For Head Coach Billy Donovan and his staff, however, the evaluations on the court will still be based on the core team goals set forward.
“Just stay solid, stay focused and communicating is the biggest key,” Christon explained.
1-on-1: Semaj Christon:
In the midst of Russell Westbrook’s heroics on Sunday afternoon in Denver, there were strong performances up and down the roster, including one from Kyle Singler. Despite not having played more than 17 minutes in a game this year, Singler notched 34 minutes in the absence of Abrines, Doug McDermott and a limited Andre Roberson. He performed admirably, notching eight points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals. A couple of his buckets came off of Westbrook’s dishes, so Singler was honored to have a chance to take part in his point guard’s historic night.
- “(Westbrook) is always thankful for the guys in the locker room,” Singler said. “We know he’s on our side and we’re thankful to have a leader and player like Russell on our team.”
The man who clinched the triple-double record for Westbrook, however, was Christon. The rookie point guard and veteran of professional ball in Italy and in the D-League was cool, calm and collected when he received Westbrook’s pass in the corner, then knocked down the three-pointer. From now on, Christon will be a figure in Westbrook’s record-breaking moment.
- “I wasn’t really nervous, I just took my time because I saw nobody was running at me,” Christon said. “So I just shot it with confidence.”
“I did look at my page on the internet, on Wikipedia,” Christon grinned. “They changed it really quick.”
Christon has been one of the heart-warming stories on this Thunder roster so far this season. A former second round draft selection, Christon has battled uphill his entire life to get to this moment: a chance to compete in the postseason as the Thunder’s backup point guard. Since he was young, he’s used the motto “make them see you” and is still reminding himself of that every time he steps on the floor.
- “Where I’m from, not a lot of people get a chance to be in the NBA or play professionally, so I just use that to try to keep me going,” Christon explained.