Russell Westbrook barreled down the lane, blowing past the powerless Detroit Pistons defense, and threw down an emphatic tomahawk dunk. To punctuate the slam, he leaned back, flexed his muscles and let out a thunderous roar.
The basket gave the Thunder a mere four-point lead 2 minutes, 9 seconds in. But right then, you got the sense this one would be a blowout. Thunder players had a different look in their eyes and pep in their step. Thunder fans, who hadn't seen their team in more than a week, were full of the fervor that had faded in the last few.
When Westbrook whipped an on-the run, behind-the-back pass to Kevin Durant for a layup on the ensuing Thunder possession, the rout was on.
The Thunder took care of the Pistons 99-79 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena in a game that featured plenty of highlights and never was in doubt after those opening three minutes Monday night.
“I just tried to keep the excitement in the game,” Westbrook explained when asked about his two early highlights. “I just tried to keep the fans involved and keep my teammates involved as well.”
But for all the showcase sequences on offense, the Thunder cruised because of yet another shutdown performance defensively.
Oklahoma City led by as many as 32 points and trailed only when Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey hit a jump shot 22 seconds in for the first points of the game. The Thunder then forced the Pistons into missing 15 of their final 17 shots in the first period.
At the end of the first period, Detroit stared at a 29-12 deficit after shooting 16.7 percent. The Thunder pestered the Pistons into shooting just 34.1 percent for the game, and never let Detroit see 40 percent shooting after missing two of its first three shots.
“I thought our defense set the tone tonight right from the very first possession,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Monday night marked the fourth straight game in which the Thunder has held an opponent to less than 40 percent shooting. On Saturday, OKC held New Jersey to an opponent-low 31 percent. But when the Thunder took a 60-33 halftime lead, the Pistons' point total was two fewer than the Nets had at intermission, setting a new opponent low.
By out-rebounding the Pistons 51-38, the Thunder also excelled at an area that's been problematic thus far. Serge Ibaka led the way with a game-high 10 rebounds to go with another five blocked shots, the second time in as many games that Ibaka has swatted that many.