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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Thank God Russell Westbrook Is Back, And Still Russell Westbrook

Illustration for article titled Thank God Russell Westbrook Is Back, And Still Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook made his return to the Thunder last night, several weeks before he was expected to be back. He missed 11 of 16 shots, made four turnovers, and looked like he'd be shaking off the rust for at least a few weeks. But he was also undeniably the real Westbrook, the agent of chaos who makes the often rudimentary OKC offense unpredictable and effective. And you saw all of that within five minutes of him being back on the court.

Westbrook spent the first possession of the game bounding around on defense like he was working off an espresso bender, then sauntered down the court, then suddenly blew into the lane with that shock of speed you hoped but weren't quite positive you'd see from him early this year. He was fouled on the floor, but the Thunder went right back to him on the inbounds, and he drew a shooting foul from a strong move off of a quick post-up. Speed, strength, quickness—Westbrook was OK, and doing the Westbrook things everyone loves, even the shitty ones.

From there, he missed a box-out on P.J. Tucker, which led to a Phoenix offensive rebound, jacked up a questionable three from the wing, lost Eric Bledsoe on the ensuing defensive possession on a backdoor cut, caught up to him and stripped the ball, and on the other end fed Perkins for a nice (bricked) look on a pick and roll. Next trip down, a gorgeous quick-release pass from Westbrook to Durant to Ibaka for a (blocked) dunk. There was a wild turnover, and a few botched defensive assignments. Then, as he's just walking the ball up the floor, he decides, actually, screw that—he crosses up Bledsoe, drives left, and blows by two more Suns for good measure. Westbrook makes helpers who get to their spots more or less on time look like they're standing still, nonessential to the play, telephone poles whipping by before you can notice them.

The next Thunder possession, he sauntered down to the same spot the floor, drifted left off of a high screen from Ibaka, and neither Phoenix defender even considered doing anything but trying to follow. He flung a quick pass back to Ibaka for an easy jumper. Serge is one of the best shooters in the NBA at long, open two-point jumpers—this was a defensive screwup, but this is also the reality-distorting field of Russell Westbrook. It's the kind of panic OKC struggles to inflict on defenses without him, even with Durant creating.


Steph Curry rearranges the physical laws of basketball; Westbrook simply overpowers them. He blows by help defense that, for most other guards, would have arrived on time. He attacks defenses at angles—and speeds—that others don't because they aren't strong or fast or brave enough to get to the spaces, like in that run along the right baseline at the 35-second mark in the video above. It's the unpredictability of a truckload of talent and confidence, like a rocket-armed quarterback jamming a laser beam pass into quadruple coverage and making it work. Sometimes it will make a turnover, or just an inefficient play. But damn if it isn't fun to watch.

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