Russell Westbrook snagged a rebound he probably shouldn't have, like he often does, and dribbled the ball to the corner right in front of the Thunder bench.
He could pass. He could drive. Instead, he pulled up and shot one of those off-the-dribble threes that regularly goes horrible wrong.
Westbrook held the pose, his arm raised, his hand cocked, and behind him, his teammates went berserk. Randy Foye raised three fingers in the air. Enes Kanter went down in a crouch like he was about to wave a runner in from third base.
On a night that emotions ran high at The Peake, no one was more composed, more cool, more in control than Westbrook. He made the right plays. He pushed the right buttons. And in a series everyone thought the best point guard would be wearing Warrior blue, you can pretty clearly say he is actually wearing Thunder blue.
Thunder 118, Warriors 94.
Oklahoma City has taken a commanding 3-1 lead in this series in large part because Westbrook is playing the smile right off Steph Curry's face. The joy that the Warrior point guard has so often played with these past two seasons is gone, eviscerated by Westbrook's sheer force of will.
“Just his effort and his energy I thought through the course of the entire game … as a coach, you sit there and you have great respect and admiration for somebody that plays that hard and gives to the game and to his teammates,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
Thing is, Westbrook always plays with great energy. That is never a question with him. But playing like this? Where he's getting to the basket with such frequency, then making great decisions to either score or find a teammate? Where he's disrupting early and often on the defensive end? Where he's doing all that while still making the game easier for everyone around him?
Westbrook scored 36 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and dished 11 assists on Tuesday night, becoming the first player with a 30-plus-point triple-double in a playoff game against a defending champ since Charles Barkley in 1993, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Players just don't get those kind of numbers in the playoffs, and they really don't get them against the Warriors.
Westbrook is a problem for which the Warriors have no answer.
“We're trying to keep him out of the paint and keep him out of transition,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “so when you have 21 turnovers, it's going to be pretty hard. We've got to take care of the ball better.”
No doubt the Warriors didn't help themselves with all those turnovers, but Westbrook himself caused some of them. He had four steals, but there were a bunch of other instances where he affected plays and forced the issue.
Defensively, the Thunder rattled the Warriors, forcing six turnovers each out of Curry and Draymond Green.
“He's just a problem in passing lanes,” Warriors sharpshooter Klay Thompson said of Westbrook. “We didn't use his aggressiveness to our advantage. We let him disrupt too many possessions. We've got to make him pay for when he gambles.”
Maybe the Warriors can do that in Game 5, but the evidence sure doesn't seem to be in their favor.
Westbrook is helping the Thunder out-Warrior the Warriors.
Oklahoma City is the team getting out in transition and scoring quick points. The Thunder is swinging the ball around, finding open shots, then finding even better shots. And Westbrook is the catalyst for all of that.
He's a big reason that role players like Serge Ibaka and Andre Roberson scored 17 points each. On their own, they combined to far outpace Green, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, who combined for only 23 points. And who'd have thought we'd be saying that about a couple of guys who we thought would have their biggest (and maybe only) contributions on the defensive end in this series?
Steven Adams chipped in 11 points while Dion Waiters had 10 points. Add that to the 26 points that Kevin Durant scored, and you have balance like the Warriors often have.
Westbrook is the catalyst for all of it.
“Plus, to absorb the number of minutes he absorbs and to put his body on the line like he does,” Donovan said. “Listen, I played the game.”
Then, the coach chuckled.
“Not at that level,” he said. “But I know how physically taxing and demanding that is to do what he does with the minutes that he plays. Same thing with Kevin. Those guys are obviously being game planned against and they're having to play defense and they're having to generate shots and they're having to create. I think the physical stamina, concentration and ability of not only Russell but also Kevin night after night … is really, really remarkable.”
It sure is, but Westbrook doesn't seem to be slowing down one bit. If anything, he's getting better as these playoffs go on. He's playing superbly even as the competition gets tougher while at the same time playing calmly as the intensity gets higher.
Never will it be higher than Thursday night in Oakland.
But as Westbrook sat in postgame interviews wearing pinstriped overalls, a star-patterned shirt and a black fedora, he was the model of calm.
“I just try to read the game,” he said. “I know my energy and aggression can impact the game, and that's what I try to do.”
Then almost as an afterthought, he said, “Create some havoc.”
Just because he's in control doesn't mean he isn't doing some serious damage.