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.
Later, he was seen grabbing at his thigh.
Who knows what happened. When asked how he felt, Westbrook revealed nothing.
“Yeah, I’m OK,” he said.
But clearly, Westbrook wasn’t the same player early in the second half. He missed a jumper, then clanked another. He turned the ball over. He missed a couple threes, then another jumper.
By the time he went to the bench, he had no points, one rebound, one assist and two turnovers in the quarter. Worse, he was struggling to stay in front of Mike Conley; the Memphis point guard got going and got his teammates going, too.
Westbrook sat in his customary spot at the end of the bench, but he had ice packs on both knees. At one point, he even went into the tunnel behind the bench with some of the Thunder’s medical personnel.
“Russell, as far as I know is fine,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “This is the first that I’ve heard of it.”
Hard to believe that the coach didn’t know that one of his superstars spent some time being evaluated by the medical staff. This team doesn’t have a chance at winning an NBA title without Westbrook.
He did return to the game midway through the fourth quarter, and he played well. Not hair on fire, but pretty darn good. He got to the free-throw line, hit that crazy circus shot and helped the Thunder hold off the pesky Grizzlies.
Maybe the hitch in his gait and the double ice packs and the trip to the tunnel are nothing.
Because with Westbrook in the lineup and in playoff mode, this Thunder team sure is something.
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.