Kevin Durant grabbed Russell Westbrook around the waist, lifted him off the floor and paraded him around the hardwood.
It was a hug and then some.
And Westbrook deserved every bit of it.
If not for the Thunder point guard, Oklahoma City would’ve lost Tuesday night at The Peake. If not for the most maligned player in the NBA, the Thunder would be facing elimination Thursday night in Los Angeles. If not for Westbrook, well, you know.
Thunder 105, Clippers 104.
Westbrook didn’t have another triple-double, didn’t have quite enough rebounds or assists to add to his amazing triple-double total these playoffs, but it was his scoring that the Thunder needed most. On a night when Durant missed 16 of his 22 shots and Serge Ibaka managed only eight shots and Reggie Jackson managed even fewer with five, Westbrook had to be the scorer. And he filled that role almost as well as anyone could’ve asked.
Thirty-eight points, and none bigger than the last three.
With the Thunder trailing by two points with 11.3 seconds left, Westbrook took an inbounds pass and dribbled out beyond the three-point line. Every Thunder fan inside The Peake — and probably anywhere else on the planet — seemed to gasp.
What was he doing?
Then with Chris Paul guarding him, Westbrook dribbled, squared his shoulders and pulled up for a three. Paul seemed a little surprised, leaping and trying to get a hand in Westbrook’s face. He hit Westbrook’s arm instead.
Foul with 6.4 seconds left.
Three free throws.
“I’m still upset about the shot I missed in L.A. for the game,” Westbrook said in his postgame TNT interview of the potential game-winning three that he clanked at the end of the game Sunday, “so tonight, I just tried to take my time, take a deep breath and knock them down.”
Westbrook calmly swished all three free throws, gave the Thunder a one-point lead and set up a frantic final seconds that ended with a Clipper turnover and a Thunder victory.
“He’s fierce, and he’s fearless,” Brooks said. “And he’s a winner. That’s who he is. The guy competes for his team every single night.”
That was never more evident than late in the third quarter. The Clippers were getting points from their stars. Paul. Blake Griffin. But they were also getting baskets from Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes. Those guys were hotter than Durant.
But Westbrook just wouldn’t let the Clippers get too far ahead. He got to the free-throw line. Scored in transition. Drove to the basket. Dished on a drive to the basket for an assist. Drove to the basket again. And again.
And when he hit a rough stretch early in the fourth quarter, so did the Thunder. A turnover, a couple missed shots, an ill-advised three, and suddenly, the Clippers lead by 13 points with four minutes left.
Bad Russ reared his ugly head.
But only for a moment. Unlike days gone by, Good Russ quickly returned. He gathered himself and went right back at the Clippers. His drive to the basket with 3:51 left sparked a 17-3 run to end the game.
“Coming into the game, I told myself I was going to stay in attack mode and try to give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Westbrook told TNT in his postgame interview. “That’s what I tried to do.”
Mission accomplished again.
“The guy is a winner,” Brooks repeated.
But it was worth repeating. Because of Westbrook, the Thunder was a winner, too.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni 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.