Russell Westbrook raced over from the far side and reached around Omer Asik's back. The 7-foot center for the Houston Rockets, standing beyond the 3-point line on the left wing, had no idea what was coming.
Before Asik could even haul in a cross-court pass from James Harden, Westbrook stripped him from behind. The ball trickled toward the sideline in front of the scorer's table, but Westbrook, of course, went and got it, toeing the line before saving it to Kendrick Perkins.
Perk did the rest, leading a three-on-two fast break before lobbing a pass to Serge Ibaka for a two-handed slam.
Instead of finishing the play or assisting on the bucket, Westbrook, for a change, was allowed to watch, the Thunder point guard briefly celebrating before wisely getting back on defense against the run-and-gun Rockets.
It was those kinds of plays that Westbrook provided all night in the Thunder's 120-91 blowout in Game 1, moments of all-out hustle which Houston simply could not match.
“Russell had a Russell game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We're not surprised. That's how he plays.”
Westbrook scored 19 points with eight rebounds, 10 assists and two steals. He made 7 of 15 shots in 30 minutes. Westbrook's effort through three quarters was enough to help the Thunder build a 23-points lead — which only swelled to as many as 35 — and earn him yet another well-deserved fourth quarter off.
“There's only one guy like Russell and that's himself. It's nobody like this guy,” said Kevin Durant, who scored a game-high 24 points. “The pressure he puts on the other point guards, how strong he is, how quick he is … he never stops. He's always been fearless for us this whole season. We need him to continue to keep putting pressure on the defense.”
Durant continued, detailing what turn the Thunder now expects this chess match to take.
“Next game, they're going to try to make it tough for him,” Durant said of Westbrook. “They're going to send two or three guys at him so we got to make the right plays.”
Westbrook, sitting to shoulder-to-shoulder to Durant's right, shook his head in agreement, as if he already expects exactly that as well.
Houston's problem, one we assumed going into Game 1 but got our confirmation after those 30 electric minutes, is there isn't a single Rockets player who can come close to containing Westbrook.
In his playoff debut, Jeremy Lin was abysmal, scoring four points on 1-for-7 shooting. He had as many turnovers as assists (four) and more fouls (five) than anyone.
The only Rocket who looked to possess the relentlessness it takes to attempt to corral Westbrook was Patrick Beverley, a 2009 second-round pick who came in with 41 career games on his resume. Beverley actually picked Westbrook's pocket twice.
But it'll take much more than those two moments by Beverley for the Rockets to make this a series.
Because after Sunday night's blowout, the Rockets don't have a chance of seeing Westbrook take his foot off the gas.
“My job as the point guard for this team is to stay in attack mode,” Westbrook said.