Their emotion was evident as neither gave an inch.
Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul went at each other for the better part of 48 minutes Friday night in a battle of two of the best point guards in the league.
And Westbrook won.
In the Thunder's 97-92 win over New Orleans, Westbrook scored a game-high 29 points with 10 assists and three rebounds for his 14th double-double of the season. Paul scored 18 points with seven assists, three below his average, and admitted after the game he lost his matchup.
Westbrook, whose lone blemish was a game-high seven turnovers, refused to admit playing with any more passion against Paul. His teammates, however, told a different story.
â€œYou saw how intense those two guys were today,â€ said Kevin Durant. â€œThey were physical. (Russell) wants to be the best point guard in the league so of course he's going to get up. His energy level was a bit higher tonight playing against one of the best in the league. But we got the win. That's all he really wanted to do.â€
In the first meeting between the two teams on Nov. 29, Westbrook scored 25 points with 11 assists and five rebounds.
â€œI see him do this all the time,â€ said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. â€œI think he plays like this no matter who he plays against. He's a very competitive guy. He just has a spirit that he wants to compete every time.â€
KRSTIC, ALDRICH INJURED
Center Nenad Krstic missed Friday's game with a lower back strain. It was the third game Krstic has missed this season because of an ailing back.
The injury, though, isn't believed to be serious, and Krstic is listed as day-to-day.
Rookie center Cole Aldrich also was inactive Friday because of a left rib contusion. Aldrich, who rejoined the team Monday after a five-game assignment with the Tulsa 66ers of the NBA D-League, also is listed as day-to-day.
THUNDER OVERCOMES TURNOVERS
The Thunder trailed 59-52 at halftime largely because of 12 turnovers in the first 24 minutes. The Hornets turned those giveaways into 17 points.
In the second half, the Thunder turned the ball over only eight times, leading to just eight Hornets points.
â€œI thought we were turning the ball over because we were not taking the open shot,â€ Brooks said. â€œWe were passing it to a teammate that did not have a better shot, and then we were driving into a crowd. You can't do that.â€
After making 23 of 26 foul shots, the Thunder bumped its league-leading free throw percentage to 85.8 percent. â€¦ Hornets forward David West grabbed his 1,000th career rebound Friday night. â€¦ Paul reached 7,000 career points with his first field goal of the game. â€¦ New Orleans was called for four defensive three second violations. â€¦ The Hornets' 12 third-quarter points were their lowest point total in any period this season. â€¦ The Thunder will not practice today. The team will hold a shootaround Sunday before hosting Cleveland.