OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook had them chanting his name. For about three minutes, he owned Oklahoma City. Chesapeake Energy Arena was all his.
And then Kevin Durant stole his Thunder.
Durant hit a game-winning 3 at the buzzer to lift the Thunder over the Mavericks, 104-102. And while it was a big shot that kept the Thunder undefeated at 4-0, it was also something symbolic for the team.
"I just tried to shoot a good one," Durant said. "I'm just glad I made it, man. I'm glad I made it."The young Thunder had to endure a tough day of answering questions and hearing about how their two best players reportedly hate each other (or something like that). And with Westbrook struggling again, it looked like we might be headed for another ugly night. But Westbrook bounced back, hitting three of his last four shots and scoring seven of the Thunder's last 12. His first, a breakway and-1 dunk, had the crowd calling his name.
"RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL! RUSS-ELL!"
There was a reason for it. These Oklahomans aren't stupid. They know what was going on. A night before, Westbrook went 0-13 from the floor and had a reported altercation with Durant. And he was again stuck in a rut, laboring through another tough night starting 3-9. You could Westbrook was feeling it. He wasn't himself. He wasn't playing with that normal burst of energy or emotion. But the crowd lifted him.
"I've never seen in my 20 years with the NBA what the crowd did tonight," head coach Scott Brooks said. "They knew he was struggling. They watched our game last night and he struggled. When he made the layup and the free throw and the crowd started chanting his name out, that was special. This is a special place to play. I've never seen it before."
Said Westbrook:"It's amazing what these fans would do for you. I love this city, I love my teammates. I'm just thankful."
Said Durant: "The crowd was unbelievable tonight encouraging him and I think that gave him some extra push. We can only do so much. We're always on top of him encouraging but the fans for the fans to do that meant a lot and he hit some big shots ... That shows how much they follow us out there. For them to encourage him like that was beautiful to see. I'm glad he was able to carry us in the last few minutes of the fourth and lead us to a good win."
But all of that quickly became background noise because of what Durant did. With 1.4 seconds left and OKC suddenly down a point because of a Vince Carter go-ahead 3, Durant caught a pass from Thabo Sefolosha and in his beautiful, gliding way, launched a deep 3 that hit nothing but the bottom.
"He lives for shots like that," Westbrook said. "He has come a long way and I am really happy for him."
Which seems like it might be a thing Westbrook would say through gritted teeth. For a second, he was the Thunder's man. So many times last season, Westbrook carried the Thunder. And not only was he doing it against OKC's nemesis in Dallas, but he was producing quite the story. It was quite the bounce back, what, with the crowd chanting his name and such.
But like a slap in the face, he was placed right back in his role. He was humbled once again by the Thunder's alpha dog. Maybe that's going to bother him tonight when he goes to sleep, maybe not. All Westbrook would say after the game was he was happy to win. Short, and to the point, is Russell Westbrook.
Oklahoma City is still in its growing pains as a young team. The supposed tension between Westbrook and Durant made the game against Dallas something of a game within a game. How would they handle it? How would they respond? And it was against the Mavs nonetheless, a team that's been known to play with the Thunder's emotions.
With the Thunder's elevated exposure comes all the outside noise that hit the Thunder over the last 24 hours. But nothing shuts it up quite like the sound of a 25-footer swishing through the net as the horn sounds.