Aggressive Hornets sting Westbrook’s Thunder

LOS ANGELES: The Charlotte Hornets withstood a 33-point performance from prolific Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook on Wednesday to snap an 11-game losing streak against the Thunder.
French guard Nicolas Batum scored 28 points for the Hornets in the 123-112 triumph. His driving lay-up and three-point shot keyed a 9-0 scoring run that took the Hornets’ lead from 105-104 to 114-104 with 1:19 to play.
The Thunder wouldn’t get the gap below six the rest of the way, missing a chance to join the Utah Jazz atop the Northwest Division.
“We were aggressive,” Batum said after the Hornets snapped a two-game losing streak. “We tried to be aggressive on offence because we know they have some biggies inside. We made plays, especially on offence.”
The Thunder were frustrated by the officiating most of the night. The Hornets connected on 40 of 49 free-throw attempts while the Thunder made 19 of their 23 attempts from the foul line.
Charlotte coach Steve Clifford praised his team for their determination in getting to the basket and drawing contact. “We drive the ball hard,” Clifford said.
“We’ve been getting to the line pretty much all year. We’re top six in free-throw attempts, it’s one of our biggest strengths. We’re number one in not fouling, and we’ve been getting to the line.
“Driving the ball, getting the ball going into the paint. Obviously, that was the biggest factor in the game.”
Westbrook, who has 16 triple-doubles already this season, added 15 rebounds and eight assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
Crazy tech
Although his 33 points were a game-high he had his struggles, missing 10 of his first 12 shots from the field. He connected on 10 of 31 field goal attempts, just two of 12 from three-point range, and was whistled for a technical foul in the first quarter.
With 3:13 left in the quarter and the score tied 16-16, the Thunder called a timeout and Westbrook threw the ball to referee Tre Maddox as he walked to the bench.
Maddox wasn’t looking and the ball hit him in the head, prompting referee Sean Corbin to issue the technical, irking Thunder players and coaches.
“I called his name, he turned right at me and then he looked away,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know what to tell you, I really don’t. I would never, ever disrespect the game in that way, throw the ball at a referee.
“I’ve never done it before. That’s just not even heard of in our game today. If you do that you get kicked out of the game,” Westbrook said. “That’s not allowed and I would never do such a thing. To get a tech is crazy to me.”
Kemba Walker added 20 points and nine assists for Charlotte. Frank Kaminsky scored all of his 17 points in the first half. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist did a solid job defending Westbrook, and also scored 14 points with 11 rebounds.
“You know, we tried to contain Westbrook,” Batum said. “It’s not easy but MKG (Kidd-Gilchrist) did a great job on him tonight. He still got his numbers but MKG did a great job on him and we made plays at the end.”
Antetokounmpo lifts Bucks
At Madison Square Garden, Giannis Antetokounmpo drained a step-back jumper as time expired to lift the Milwaukee Bucks to a 105-104 victory over the New York Knicks.
Milwaukee’s standout Greek forward made the first game-winning shot of his 3 1/2-year NBA career.
He posted his 16th double-double of the season with 27 points and 13 rebounds for the Bucks, who improved to 18-16.
His streak of 13 straight games with 20 or more points is the longest by a Milwaukee player since Michael Redd had 14 in a row in 2006.
Lance Thomas did all he could to defend the shot, but after dribbling through traffic and turning, Antetokounmpo managed to make some space and seal the win for a Bucks team that had battled back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit.
“I work on that shot a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I was patient. I knew I could shoot the ball over the top of anybody at any time. I wanted to make sure I took the last shot.”
Antetokounmpo’s team-mates mobbed him in celebration, and Bucks coach Jason Kidd said the final moment was a team effort.
Butler shines for Bulls
Jimmy Butler scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter as the Chicago Bulls beat short-handed NBA champions Cavaliers 106-94 in Cleveland.
Butler, coming off a 52-point performance in a win over Charlotte on Monday, struggled to find is groove early, scoring just three points in the first half. But the Bulls roared back from their slow start against a Cavs team ravaged by an array of ailments and injuries.
Cavs superstar LeBron James was fighting the flu in the match-up with his former Miami team-mate Dwyane Wade.
Channing Frye also played despite feeling ill, Kyrie Irving missed a third straight game with a troublesome hamstring, and Kevin Love was absent as he continued to battle debilitating effects of food poisoning. — AFP