Patrick Beverley did the Thunder a solid.
The Rockets’ guard decided to embrace his villain status. Be the bad guy. Wear a mask even.
It worked — for the Thunder.
On the night that Beverley and Russell Westbrook stepped on the same court for the first time since Beverley ran into Westbrook in last year’s playoffs and set off a round of knee surgeries that has defined nearly a year for the Thunder, Beverley’s aggressive style backfired. It helped to energize an already pumped Westbrook and Co.
Thunder 106, Rockets 98.
After struggling since the All-Star break, the Thunder was snapped to attention by Beverley’s play. The boys in blue insisted after the game that they were already a motivated bunch — “We were mostly pumped up because we lost two in a row,” Kevin Durant said. “We never want to go three in a row” — but the spark supplied by Beverley sure didn’t hurt. The Thunder held the high-powered and red-hot Rockets under 100 points for the first time in two weeks and under 42 percent shooting for only the second time since the All-Star break.
And Westbrook turned in one of his best performances since returning from that third knee surgery.
His line: 24 points, four rebounds, seven assists, four steals and five turnovers, though he had none after halftime.
“He just went out there to play to win,” Durant said. “That’s how Russ always plays, with that edge, that intensity.”
But he doesn’t play a defender like Beverley every night. The guy is a pest. Not the biggest. Not the fastest. Still, he makes life miserable for guys around the league with his energy and effort.
Just ask Damian Lillard. The Portland point guard got into it with Beverley over the weekend, then sparred with him in the media.
Wearing a clear plastic mask to protect a recently broken nose, Beverley looked like he might spar for real with Westbrook a couple of times.
Less than halfway through the first quarter, Scott Brooks pointed at the hash mark near the Thunder bench to let Westbrook know that he wanted a timeout. Westbrook reached the hash and signaled for a timeout, but as he did, Beverley reached for the ball.
“That’s how I play against everybody,” he said.
It was the exact same spot where Beverley ran up on Westbrook as he called a timeout in last year’s playoffs. They collided, and Westbrook is still trying to get his knee right.
It was unreal to see a similar play on the exact same spot Tuesday night. Westbrook bowed up, Beverley stood his ground, and for a moment, fisticuffs seemed entirely possible. Beverley was called for a technical, but it did nothing to cool his heels.
A couple minutes later, the ball squirted loose near midcourt and Westbrook dove on the floor for it. He corralled it and cradled it, but from behind, Beverley reached around Westbrook’s shoulders and tried to get a jump ball. Whistles blew, but as Westbrook scrambled to his feet and started to turn toward Beverley, everyone at The Peake wondered if the referees would get there in time to separate them.
What did Westbrook think about the whole thing?
“Nothing,” he said with his best poker face. “Just win the game. That’s what my whole objective is ... win the game.”
Beverley made the focus on that objective even sharper Tuesday night. When the two were back on the court together again in the second quarter, Westbrook was locked in. He drove and dished to Reggie Jackson for an open 3-pointer. He drew a foul on Beverley and got to the free-throw line. He blew by Beverley for an easy layup. He got just enough of a screen to shake Beverley and hit a 3. On and on it went.
Westbrook scored nine consecutive points.
And Beverley would’ve kept taking the brunt of it had Westbrook not helped him pick up his third foul and take an early seat on the bench.
“You guys know I love Russell,” Brooks said, “and this is why I really like him — he doesn’t like the 58 point guards that he plays against. He’s not out there to make friends. He’s not out there to be anybody’s buddy.”
“He’s about playing the right way,” the Thunder coach said. “He’s about playing a game that we as a coaching staff, as fans, as an organization can be proud of. That’s what he does every single night; he just plays the way it’s supposed to be played.”
A shot at Beverley?
But it’s pretty clear this Westbrook-Beverley matchup will stay hot as long as the two are in the league. Even though it didn’t provide nearly as many fireworks in the second half — seemed fitting that Westbrook drew a foul on Beverley and hit three ensuing free throws to seal the Thunder victory with a minute and a half left — but the sparks from that matchup ignited other fires. Steven Adams got into it with James Harden. Harden got into it with Brooks. Francisco Garcia got into it with Durant.
Add in lots of staredowns and the occasional f-bomb, not to mention a whopping 42 points from Durant, and it felt like June, not March at The Peake.
Maybe this is the game that gets the Thunder rolling again. Only time will tell on that. But at a minimum, it was a reminder of how tough Westbrook and this Thunder defense can be.
Patrick Beverley started it, but the Thunder definitely finished it.
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.