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Nuggets from my notebook from Friday's win at Toronto

by Darnell Mayberry Modified: March 22, 2014 at 3:20 am •  Published: March 22, 2014

This thing took a turn quick…and then another one and another one and another one…

  • Russell Westbrook was in great spirits after the game, which was the best possible thing we could have seen when the Thunder opened its locker room to the media after a double-overtime thriller that was overshadowed by uncertainty with how serious Westbrook’s knee injury was. But the star point guard who means so much to this team was in a jovial mood when reporters entered the Thunder’s dressing room. He was sitting at his locker, with a routine bag of ice wrapped around his right knee. He smiled, laughed and joked with teammates. He answered questions from the media, any and all that came his way. When his time icing was done, he stood and slipped nothing more than a tight black sleeve over his right leg. He covered that with a near equally-tight pair of black pants. After he pulled a sweater over his head, Westbrook strolled out of the locker room, out of Air Canada Centre and out of Canada walking with a defiant strut, as if he was determined to show the basketball world that, yes, he was OK.
  • “I don’t expect to miss no time,” Westbrook said.
  • The official word is Westbrook sustained a sprained knee. He will be re-evaluated Saturday in OKC. But he said he is “pain-free.” “It feels good,” Westbrook said. “I wouldn’t know much more until tomorrow. But as of right now, I feel good.”
  • The injury occurred with 7:37 left in the third quarter. Westbrook, working from the left wing just beyond the 3-point line, sort of jab-stepped to his right. As he did, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry closed in, banging into Westbrook’s right knee and bending it inward. Westbrook turned and grimaced, immediately calling for a timeout before slamming the ball. He hobbled along the sideline for several moments before teammates hurried to him. After attempting to walk it off, Westbrook was helped to the locker room by Hasheem Thabeet and trainer Joe Sharpe. He did not return.
  • Westbrook on the play: “I just kind of stepped back and Kyle, just playing defense, just tried to reach for the ball and kind of hit me on the side of my leg.”
  • Westbrook on his reaction: “You been hurt before, you kind of get nervous like I did.”
  • There was a belief after the game that the Thunder was playing it safe with Westbrook. That not bringing him back into the game was mostly a cautious approach, the team choosing to be safe rather than sorry.
  • Kevin Durant on the mood of the team in light of Westbrook’s injury: “We’re confident. We just got to believe that everything’s going to be all right. He’s walking around. It seems like everything’s all right. I don’t know too much about what’s going on. But I’m sure we’ll know here soon.”
  • Durant on his reaction to seeing Westbrook hobbling: “I just hope it’s nothing serious. I just sat there and prayed and hopefully everything comes back negative and it’s just a little tweak and he’ll be able to play the next game.”
  • Given the history and what Westbrook clearly means to this team, it was hard to not view Westbrook’s frustration and his pronounced limp off the floor and not think the worst.
  • Durant said he didn’t. “I’m a positive person,” he said. “I can’t always think the worst. It’s always good that can come out of anything. We just got to stay positive and lift him up and not let him panic. We can’t panic as a group. We just got to stay positive. Hopefully everything comes out well.”
  • Durant wouldn’t even touch a question about whether the team is better prepared to potentially have to play without Westbrook. “I don’t even want to think about that,” he said. “Whatever happens after that, we’ll see what happens and I’ll answer that question.”
  • Scott Brooks: “I’ve been in this game a long time. I know that’s the unfortunate part about sport is the injuries. I never think about that. Obviously, he’s had some injuries in the knee this past season. It’s something that’s just part of the game. He’ll do all he can just to continue to stay on the court.”
  • While trying to say the bare minimum about Westbrook’s situation, Brooks did slip up and reveal that Westbrook’s current restriction is 30 minutes. So there’s that. Of course, we could deduce as much from Westbrook’s minute count since he’s been back. But Brooks has never said it before tonight.
  • Brooks: “We’re just going to evaluate it tomorrow. It’s no reason to think nothing else other than it’s a right knee sprain.”
  • I asked Brooks if it’s possible that the Thunder just holds Westbrook out for the rest of the season. Maybe I jumped the gun on that one. Maybe I didn’t. Who knows? But only 13 games remain, and when something this scary happens to someone this significant, perhaps everything is on the table. “We just finished a double-overtime game,” Brooks replied. “We haven’t even gotten to that. Like I said, it’s nothing more than we’ll evaluate it tomorrow. I wish I could give you more. That’s all I know.”
  • Nick Collison: “I try not to really get too high or too low with it until we know what it is. I don’t want to overreact to anything. Obviously we need him. It’s been frustrating for him, I’m sure. It’s been frustrating for us. But other than that, you can’t do much about it. We’ll wait and see. Hopefully it’s not bad. We haven’t heard anything about it yet. That’s really all you can do.”
  • More from Collison: “I was really proud of the guys for fighting this one out, because that could have been an emotional blow, depending on how guys handled it. But I thought we handled it well.”
  • Lowry walked over to Westbrook and said a few words as he made his way past the Raptors bench and into the tunnel leading to the Thunder locker room. Classy gesture by Lowry. Clearly it wasn’t an intentional or a dirty play in any way. Just really unfortunate.
  • Does anybody care about the game?
  • I thought so.
  • Here’s how Durant described it. “That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of,” he said.
  • That’s saying something. A lot, actually. Going all the way back to his Texas days, and perhaps beyond, Durant has been in some serious thrillers. But even when I followed up with that fact, he stood his ground. “Yeah,” he said. “Down eight with a minute and a half to go, and a missed free throw late in the game and we won. I mean, two guys foul out, Russ was out, a back-to-back, if you want to add everything into it. That’s the craziest game.”
  • It was a pretty crazy game. But I’m not sure it was crazier that Golden State I or II. And both of those were this season. Don’t even get me started on that Timberwolves classic from yesteryear. But it’s a good debate. Maybe something we need to do in The Oklahoman soon. The Thunder plays a ton of these crazy contests. This one definitely was up there.
  • Reggie Jackson forced Durant to keep the game ball from tonight. Jackson walked off the court with it, and after the game it sat inside KD’s cubicle with autographs all over it. Durant requested that all his teammates sign it. It was a pretty cool story. He really is going to cherish this game.
  • Collison on how the Thunder sticks with it in games like this: “I think we just keep playing. We try to play every possession. If you can string enough good ones together, good things usually happen. I think that’s what we generally try to do. I think that’s our mindset is just try to play with what’s in front of us and play that play. And tonight, we had a lot of incredible plays. It went our way that last minute. I think that’s a little bit of a reward for just sticking to it and continuing to play it out. I think it says a lot about us. That’s who we are, and that’s who we want to be.”
  • I wonder if KD wrapped up the MVP award tonight.
  • Durant finished with 51 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. He became the first player since Michael Jordan during the 1992-93 season to finish with those marks.
  • Oddly enough, Durant was asked before the game if he’s comfortable being in the same sentence as MJ. Someone was asking because of the 25-point streak. Durant broke into a big smile. “I’m comfortable with it,” he said, laughing. “But Jordan has done way more than just score 25 points in however many games. He’s a champion, an MVP, a Finals MVP. He’s done it all. So I’d rather be in that conversation with him. But it’s definitely an honor to be in the same sentence as Michael Jordan. I never want to take that for granted. But I’ve got bigger goals in mind.”
  • DeMar DeRozan ventured into the Thunder locker room after the game. With his daughter in his arms, he checked on Westbrook, saying “You good?” Westbrook said yeah. Moments later, Durant jokingly screamed across the dressing room, “I guess we just let anybody in the locker room, huh?” It was of course in reference to the Kendrick Perkins-Joakim Noah beef. Durant and Westbrook both laughed. Collison, on the other hand, didn’t look amused.
  • Durant on his game-winner: “We couldn’t go another overtime, so I had to live with whatever happened. We had to get out of there. I wasn’t trying to go to another overtime. So I pulled up for it. It looked good when it left my hands, and God guided that thing in the basket.”
  • Durant’s contest on DeRozan’s potential game-winner at the other end might not have been as impressive as his dagger. But it was every bit as important.
  • Looking back, the Raptors might wish the refs actually called the blatant foul that Durant deserved to get with 10 seconds remaining. Toronto was ahead by two, and Durant missed five free throws tonight. Even if he made both, it would have been Toronto ball with a chance for the last shot. Funny how things work out.
  • That was a horrible no-call…And the truth be told, it probably made things right for the horrible call Durant received when he jumped into Greivis Vasquez on a 3 but Bill Kennedy ruled an offensive foul on Vasquez for allegedly jumping into KD. Equally horrible call.
  • John Salmons might not sleep tonight after missing both of those free throws.
  • Durant did it on both ends in the first overtime, too. He hit a cold-blooded 3 with 1:34 left to put OKC ahead by three and came back and played great post D on Amir Johnson before stuffing him on his turnaround jump shot.
  • You would have never guessed Durant had a horrendous first half. Half one: 13 points, 3-for-12 shooting, five rebounds, two assists, four turnovers. Half two and the two overtimes: 38 points, 12-for-20 shooting, seven rebounds, five assists, one block and one turnover.
  • Also in the first half: KD’s 15th technical foul. It came with 27.3 seconds remaining in the half. It was bogus. Referee David Jones ruled that KD pushed Tyler Hansbrough. While technically true, it was the most harmless, “Let me go” push you’ll ever see. I’d be surprised if it’s not rescinded. If it’s not, or if Thursday’s at Cleveland isn’t, Durant will be one technical foul away from an automatic one-game suspension.
  • Question: why can refs downgrade flagrant fouls but not technical fouls, huh competition committee?
  • Jackson was huge in the fourth quarter and overtimes. This could have been the best game of his career. It was his first double-double. He finished with 25 points and a team-high-tying 12 rebounds. He had three assists, a blocked shot and filled in wonderfully for Westbrook. “Reggie was outstanding,” Brooks said. “I have confidence in Reggie. I thought he did a better job later in the second half of guarding his guy. And he can, he just has to engage and focus on doing that every time.”
  • Jackson again made clutch free throws in the first overtime. They would have preserved the win had Lowry not sent the game into a second overtime with a clutch shot of his own, a 3-pointer from 27 feet.
  • Derek Fisher and Caron Butler. (Sigh). What I’m about to say is going to sound like I’m justifying their performance or their playing time. Or both. I’m not. They combined for 12 points on 4-for-18 shooting. They had just four rebounds, two assists and nine fouls. To top it off, they both played 35 minutes. But here’s the thing you have to understand. While they weren’t doing much good, they also weren’t doing much bad. Did it look bad at times, heck a lot of the time? Sure. But most of that was missed shots. That the Thunder can live with. Brooks is not going to bench a veteran player because he’s missing shots. You should know that by now. The more important thing is they weren’t out there making mistakes. Could someone, say Jeremy Lamb or Perry Jones III, have come in and performed better? Perhaps. But benching championship veterans for the potential for inexperienced second-year players to come in and play better is just not going to happen, especially when all they’re really doing is missing good looks.
  • Brooks on Fish and Butler’s minutes: “We had some foul trouble. Everybody was in foul trouble. So it was more minutes than I wanted to play them. But when it goes into double overtime, you’ve got to just play to win the game and worry about the day off tomorrow. But I knew the guys were going to continue to compete.”
  • Brooks hugged Fish after the game. I want to make a big funny about that. But after a night like this, I’ll just leave it at that…but not before adding that it was a big ol’ passionate one.
  • After an encouraging performance one night earlier at Cleveland, Lamb didn’t check in until 20.9 seconds remained in the first overtime. He only checked in then because Butler had fouled out. That, I didn’t understand.
  • Everybody does it, sure. I get it. But I was sort of embarrassed for fans that fill The Peake when Kyle Lowry’s MVP chants in the second overtime were way stronger than anything Durant has gotten this year. You now have just six more games to get it together, Thunder heads. No more excuses.
  • Let me recap the first half: Durant had a cold start, the Thunder couldn’t pull down defensive rebounds, Caron missed shots, there was a Raptors run, then a Thunder run, a bunch of fouls, more misses by Caron, a bunch of players slipping on the court and Durant’s tech. If you missed it, good for you. You’re better because you did.
  • Up next: Denver on Monday.
by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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