The Norman Transcript

November 3, 2013

Westbrook returns to starting lineup in Thunder win

By Michael Kinney
The Norman Transcript

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook wasn’t expected back to be back for a couple more weeks. The Oklahoma City guard’s rehab process was scheduled to last until at least later this month.

But as Thunder fans have found out over the year, Westbrook has his own timetable on doing things. The All-star guard made his season debut Sunday against the Suns six months after inuring his knee. He racked up 21 points, seven assists and some timely clutch shots to help the Thunder beat the Suns 103-96 at the Chesapeake Arena in Oklahoma City.

“It was huge,” Westbrook said. “First game, home opener. Our fans were ready to come out and cheer for us. We came out and played well. I missed some easy ones, but that will come. It could be better. It was all right. But that’s expected. I didn’t expect to come back and be bionic.”

With 3:05 left in the game, the Suns’ Eric Bledsoe knocked down a layup to cut the Thunder’s lead to 90-87. But Westbrook responded with a quick drive to the basket and put Oklahoma City back up by five with 2:32 left.

After forcing the Suns into a bad shot, the Thunder went to Derek Fisher, who was fouled while making a jumper in the paint. The three-point play increased their lead to 95-87.

Phoenix answered with 3-pointers by PJ Tucker and Channing Frye.

With Oklahoma City (2-1) leading 95-92, Westbrook attempted to put the game away. He drove into the lane again for a layup, but the ball lipped out. However, Durant was right behind him for the putback dunk with 32 seconds left.

“We rotated and someone left Durant wide open for the offensive rebound,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Maybe if we get that board, it’s different. That’s all you want is to have a chance.”

The Suns were not done. Gerald Green knocked down a 3-pointer from the corner to cut the lead to two. Westbrook was then fouled and hit two from the line to put Oklahoma City up 99-95.

Phoenix tried to run the same out-of-bounds play it used to get Green his previous wide-open shot. This time, Thabo Sefolosha was all over him and forced a turnover.

Westbrook and Durant closed out the game with four straight free throws.

“I think the biggest thing, and I’ve been saying it forever, there are two things that Russell does at a high level,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He wins. He’s a winner. He’s a guy that plays the game like it’s supposed to be played. It’s not always going to be perfect, but he plays with everything he has.”

Durant scored a game high 33 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the field to go with 10 rebounds and two steals. Reggie Jackson came off the bench to score 10 points while Serge Ibaka chipped in with 9 points and 10 boards.

The Suns (2-1) were led by Bledsoe, who scored 26 points and had 14 assists. Frye added 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting from the field. Green was 5-for-10 from behind the arc and scored 21 in the loss.

Even though it was the Thunder’s third game of the season, the insertion of Westbrook into the lineup made it seem like a season opener.

Brooks wasted little time making sure his point guard got into the flow. He was fouled posting up Bledsoe and scored the game’s first points less than a minute in.

Yet the Suns didn’t fall into the trap of watching Westbrook. Frye kept the team steady early. That included nailing two 3-pointers and blocking two shots in the first half.

While it took awhile for Westbrook’s shooting touch to return, the All-star point guard showed the rest of his game was still intact. That included dropping a left-handed no look pass to Durant, which he finished with a dunk .

However, Phoenix led 45-44 at halftime.

The Thunder created several highlight reel plays during the game. That included a Westbrook-to-Durant alley-oop dunk in the third quarter that sent both players running downcourt screaming.

“I was just good for him to be back,” Durant said. “I know how much he loves the game. For him to come out and do something he loves after being out so long, it was just great to see him.”

Michael Kinney

Follow me @eyeamtruth

mkinney@normantranscript.com