“I'm happy that he's back,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I'm excited for the opportunity for our team to continue to improve and get better these next 26 games.”
All along, Westbrook was expected to return after the All-Star break, but the exact game was unknown.
“Whenever I felt like I was a hundred percent,” Westbrook said, “was when I was going to come back.”
And he says he's a hundred percent even though the debate about his availability raged these past few days. Kevin Durant said Westbrook was coming back during All-Star Weekend, then backtracked and said he spoke too soon. Brooks said Westbrook practiced Wednesday but that the team would wait and see how he was Thursday. Westbrook, though, had no doubt that Thursday would be the day.
There is still rehabilitation to be done on the knee. Make it stronger. Make him surer. Frankly, Westbrook wants to be better faster than he was after his last surgery.
“Find a way to catch my rhythm quicker,” he said.
Westbrook took a bit to round into form last time. But once he did, he was a sight to behold. Nearly unstoppable. He was almost averaging a triple double and had a triple double on Christmas Day against the Knicks.
The next day, he had surgery.
It was a total bummer — to fans, to teammates, even to Westbrook.
“It was tough,” he said. “Obviously, I wanted to keep playing, but I have to listen to my body. It was a tough decision for me, but it was for the best.
“I'm blessed to be back on the floor.”
He knows that there's no guarantee that everything will be fine from here on out. That's probably hard for Thunder fans — and front office folks — to stomach, but there are no for-sures with Westbrook's knee or any other body part that he flings around the court.
But from the looks of things against the Heat, he has come to terms with that.
He didn't play scared.
We even saw that familiar fire boil over late in the game when Westbrook picked up a technical foul protesting a call. And you know what? I'm not sure anyone minded that his emotions got the best of him.
That's how good it was to have him back.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.