OAKLAND, Calif. — Draymond Green tossed the ball toward referee Marat Kogut after a call he was unhappy with, and with a second technical foul, his night was done early into the fourth quarter. Russell Westbrook popped off the Thunder bench clapping, and waved Green off the floor.
Westbrook makes it clear often, or really any time someone asks, that he approaches every game the same way. After shootaround on Tuesday morning in downtown San Francisco, Westbrook even made a reporter answer his own question when he dared pose that query again.
After four straight losses, the Thunder were appearing to stagger in the wake of Andre Roberson‘s injury. And while Westbrook may not have had something a little extra geared up, there’s no question that against the Warriors, in their building, he really wanted this one, pushing the Thunder to a rousing 125-105 win. He finished with 34 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, and as in the first meeting with the Warriors, ended the game watching the final buzzer with a towel around his neck on the bench.
Westbrook set the tone from the jump, dropping 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting plus four assists in the first quarter, punctuating his start with a hammer about midway through where he strutted and stared into the crowd, relishing any jeer or heckle thrown his way. The Westbrook way is to play at a 10 for as long as possible, and hopefully push his teammates to find their own spark from his.
With Carmelo Anthony leaving the game just six minutes in with a sprained right ankle, and Steven Adams in foul trouble early, Paul George answered the bell (38 points), supplementing Westbrook with about as good of a two-way game as any player has turned in this season.
Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant go back and forth for a combined score of 38 points in the opening quarter between the Thunder and Warriors.
George was dynamic, turning his own defense into offense, producing a number of signature plays but none better than in the third quarter where he stole a pass, then crossed Kevin Durant to put him off balance before canning a straightaway 3. Two possessions later, George assaulted the rim and detonated over Zaza Pachulia. Westbrook is always wired, but when George belts out a roar, you know something’s really happening.
It felt like the door was wide open in the third quarter for the Warriors to step through and take over the game with a trademark roaring comeback, but it never happened. The Warriors missed a number of solid looks from deep, and the turnover problems were jarring. Outside of Durant (33 points on 8-of-14 shooting), there wasn’t much there. Any glimpse of apparent momentum was either snuffed out by a head-shaking turnover or a George dagger.
The Thunder walked into Oracle Arena on Tuesday, a house of horrors for them in years past, facing the possibility of a five-game losing streak and instead stamped a second blowout win over the Warriors this season.
It wasn’t that they played in a desperate fashion; they really just operated with focus and resolve. They had come so far since October, finally putting together the kind of basketball they knew they were capable of only to have the system shocked by losing a starter for the season.
Even through those moments where it appeared the game might tilt, Westbrook was unfazed. In the third quarter, Westbrook spent almost an entire timeout vibing to the music playing in the arena, bobbing his head and shuffling his feet.
Westbrook said Sunday after the Thunder’s loss to the Lakers he loves adversity because it’s a chance to come together and get closer. There aren’t many players better at lifting a wounded team, or franchise, than Westbrook, and he gave the Thunder everything that they needed right on time again.
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