Don't go calling this Thunder season “special,” yet.
Even after Kevin Durant's buzzer-beater from somewhere near the Oklahoma River gave the Thunder a 104-102 victory over Dallas, coach Scott Brooks cautioned against it in his postgame news conference. So I'll abide by his wishes for at least a couple more games.
But feel free to pick your own superlative about what happened at the Peake Thursday night in the fourth quarter.
Brooks certainly did.
And no, I'm not just talking about, “The Shot.”
I'm talking about the chant.
Maybe you've heard about Russell Westbrook's struggles in Memphis, his 0-for-13 shooting and a commotion on the sideline during the game.
By now this town's captivation with this team knows no limits, and our preoccupation with Westbrook's play and mood and body language can border on the obsessive.
Well, Westbrook wasn't too much better for three quarters Thursday night. And a guy sitting two rows behind me was keeping track of the trend, shouting “Oh-for-14” and “Oh-for-15” when Westbrook missed his first two shots Thursday against Dallas.
His tone was more dread than derision. Through three quarters, Westbrook had twice as many turnovers as baskets (6-3). But all night it felt like a decent percentage of the crowd showed up on the off chance they could do something to help get Westbrook turned around.
And with 3:17 to play and the game tied 91-91, Westbrook gave them their chance.
When Kendrick Perkins slapped the ball away from Dirk Nowitzki, Westbrook grabbed it and raced down court for what looked like a vintage breakaway dunk. You know, the kind he flushes and then roars like a lion. The crowd goes crazy, the play shows up on SportsCenter and everything goes back to normal. The Westbrook Watch goes back to def-con 1.
Except Jason Terry wasn't having any of that. Terry fouled Westbrook from behind as he took off, sending him flying into the first row.
The landing was not pretty. Westbrook lost his balance and pitched forward into the stands. As James Harden and another teammate went in after him, there was this pause, a dramatic one as it turns out.
The Thunder's man-down, hands-down approach yanked Westbrook off the floor. And as he walked to the free-throw line the chant began.
“RUSS-ELL, RUSS-ELL, RUSS-ELL.” It wasn't the M-V-P chants that greeted Durant late the last two seasons. Not nearly that loud or long, but a little more heartfelt.
Durant sure felt it. In fact, he was egging it on.
Westbrook, whose free throw completed the 3-point play, sure felt it.
“It's amazing what these fans will do for you,” Westbrook said.
Said Brooks, “I've never seen in my NBA 20-something years what the crowd did.”
“They knew he was struggling. He struggled, and they were chanting his name.
“This is a special place to play. I've never seen it before. That's what being a team is always about.”
That play — that chant — didn't win the game. Durant took care of that. But it definitely accomplished something. Westbrook was Westbrook after that. He went 3-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter, was aggressively pressuring Jason Kidd and became the force of nature the Thunder needs him to be.
His final line wasn't anything too special: 16 points on 6 of 15 shooting, four assists and seven turnovers. But it was hard to leave the arena without feeling something had turned for Westbrook.
“I just tried to stay positive,” he said. “My teammates kept encouraging me. I know I could come in and change the game defensively. That is what I did, and it led to some offense.”
And a special moment.