OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Seated just a few feet away and wearing the same type of eyeglasses just for style, Russell Westbrook took the chance to compliment fellow All-Star Kevin Durant on all the things he's been doing well even though his shots haven't been falling as frequently as usual.
Durant interrupted to say thank you to his teammate, drawing laughs in the postgame news conference after their Oklahoma City Thunder took a 2-0 lead on the Dallas Mavericks in their Western Conference playoff series.
It's more than just Westbrook's words that are picking his teammate up.
Westbrook is the second-leading scorer in the playoffs so far, averaging 28.5 points per game while Durant has missed almost twice as many shots as he has made. Durant's 15-for-44 shooting has been masked by his dramatic jumper in the final seconds to win Game 1 and by Westbrook's sharp play.
"If you look at Durant, I think we guarded him as well in first two games as anybody has the whole season, forcing him into some tough shots," Dallas All-Star Dirk Nowitzki said. "He still gets his points because he's a great scorer. He gets to the line, especially (in Game 2).
"But Westbrook is the guy who has been phenomenal. ... He's kept them in games, he's been aggressive, he's had a great shooting rhythm lately and so he's been the guy that's been killing us."
Westbrook has been able to solve Dallas' zone defense, using his quick first step to create enough separation for him to get off pull-up jumpers from around the free-throw line. In the first two games, Westbrook is 14 for 24 on mid-range jumpers from between 13 and 19 feet. He had eight in Game 1, six in Game 2.
"He has the speed and ability to get inside the zone and pull up for that shot, and very rarely can you contest it. He stops on a dime, has great elevation and shoots over his defender," coach Scott Brooks said.
"He's a very confident player and we need that. We need him to play that way."
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is considering other kinds of defenses to deploy, but right now Westbrook is taking the kind of shots Dallas wants him to get. The problem is that he's making a few too many.