OKC Thunder: Russell Westbrook makes a difference

Thunder point guard missed last year’s series with Memphis. His presence helped the Thunder win Game 1 of this year’s showdown with the Grizzlies.
by Jenni Carlson Published: April 20, 2014

Russell Westbrook hurled himself through the lane toward the basket and hit one of those crazy circus shots that we’ve seen him make a million times.

But when he turned and ran up court, there was a little hitch in his get-along. Nothing big. Nothing obvious. If you were watching on TV, you probably didn’t see it. Even if you were at The Peake on Saturday night, you might not have noticed.

Is it nothing?

Or is it something?

Everyone who loves Thunder blue has to hope it’s nothing. On a night when Memphis turned a blowout into a slugfest and Oklahoma City hung on for a 100-86 victory, we were reminded how rough and tumble this first round Western Conference Playoff series against the Grizzlies is going to be.

We were also reminded that Thunder was clearly the superior team with Westbrook going full speed.

He started the game with his hair on fire. He drove the baseline, hit a basket and flexed. He drove and kicked the ball to Serge Ibaka for an open jumper. He pulled up at the right elbow and nailed a jumper. He pulled up at the left elbow and hit another jumper.

He punctuated that last basket with a staredown.

Can’t blame him for a little posing. All of those highlights came in the first 4 minutes, 5 seconds of the game.

Think Westbrook might’ve made a difference in the playoff series against the Grizzlies last season?

Westbrook, of course, was hurt last season in the first round against Houston and missed the second round against Memphis. He had to watch from a suite high above the court at The Peake. He had to sit and wonder if he could’ve changed the outcome of a series that the Grizzlies won in five games.

You have to wonder if those feelings were rushing through Westbrook’s mind as he sat on the end of the Thunder bench in the second half. At some point during a masterful first half — 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists — Westbrook took a shot to the midsection. He bent over and grabbed at his stomach.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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