Thunder beats Suns in Westbrook’s return
OKLAHOMA CITY – Russell Westbrook is back and Kevin Durant wanted everyone inside Chesapeake Arena to know exactly how important it is.
Durant made a special, pre-game request, and then, of course, because he’s Kevin Durant, denied having anything to do with it.
He asked the staff to make sure to introduce Russell Westbrook last when announcing the Thunder’s starters Sunday night for the first home game of the season against the Phoenix Suns.
“I didn’t make that decision,” Durant said cooly after the game. Durant has never been a guy to want the credit and always been a guy to put Westbrook on pedestal, so he played it off
Durant’s idea came to be and now everything is just fine in Oklahoma City again.
After the Thunder’s present and future changed on a freak injury in the playoffs a season ago, and no one knew when Westbrook would return from a damaged knee, how the team would perform or what the identity of this team would become, we’re back to normal again.
Well, except for the pre-game introductions. It’s usually Durant who is saved for last, gets the loudest cheer and the extra yell from the home crowd, but the gesture from Durant was just his way of saying, “Welcome back. We missed you.”
You didn’t have to squint to make it seem like it was just like old times. There was Westbrook scoring 21 points in a 103-96 win over the Suns. If there was something wrong with the knee that knocked him out of the playoffs a season ago and kept him out of the preseason and first two games, it was hard to tell.
No one does Russell Westbrook like Russell Westbrook doe,s and he was his back to normal, getting to the rim with furious urgency.
“The biggest thing, and I’ve been saying it forever – he wins,” coach Scott Brooks said. “The guy plays the game like it’s supposed to be played, with everything he has, every single night.”
So, naturally he went on his first night back full speed ahead.
“Yes, I’m comfortable,” Westbrook said after the game. Very comfortable. I’m not expected to come back and be Bionic Man. “I’m making any move I want. I’m going to continue to go.”
And for the first time this season, albeit just three games, this had the look of the team that made the Finals two seasons ago and won 60 games last year. The 3-point shooting was dreadful and the opponent wasn’t one of elite status, but worry about that some other time.
Sunday night was about Westbrook and the new, even brighter future. Remember, Westbrook wasn’t supposed to be back this soon. Complications from his meniscus tear came up at the beginning of training camp and he needed another surgery to get everything in order. There was no official timetable, but the Thunder folks said it was going to be out about four-to-six weeks of the regular season before Westbrook would return.
Instead it was more like four-to-six days.
“He is the leader of our team, along with KD,” Brooks said. “He expects to win every night.”
Well, he’s 1-0 so far this season and the Thunder is 2-1. Maybe it wasn’t Westbrook’s best game – just 5-of-16 from the field – but there was that burst to the rim for a dunk he ended up missing, then a rebound and another drive to the basket for a layup. Seven assists overall, but three came in the fourth quarter as the Thunder outscored Phoenix 36-26. Westbrook made all four of his free throws in the fourth quarter as well, all coming in the last 30 seconds.
“I think we’re back to our comfortable units,” guard Reggie Jackson said. “If he has any rust, it’s going to be scary when that gets knocked off.”
Sunday night felt back to normal. Well, everything but the pre game introductions, anyway.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK