Russell Westbrook no longer could contain his emotions.
So he stopped trying.
When the time was right, he let loose, celebrating unlike we’ve ever seen him, jubilantly yet violently swinging his arms, one at a time, through the blissful air inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
There couldn’t have been a more appropriate celebration.
After all of the Thunder’s big runs and all of its big shots, it was Westbrook’s improbable three-point play with 4:09 remaining in the third period that will stand as the defining play of this series.
The Thunder is moving on to the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season after closing out the Los Angeles Lakers 106-90 in Game 5 on Monday night.
And in the clincher, it was Westbrook and fellow All-Star teammate Kevin Durant who carried the Thunder.
Westbrook scored a team-high 28 points, while Durant chipped in 25.
None, however, were bigger than the three by Westbrook that caused that passionate celebration.
The play started with Westbrook intercepting a Ramon Sessions pass to Kobe Bryant at the top of the key. As Westbrook raced the other way, Sessions intentionally fouled Westbrook, wrapping him up in an attempt to prevent a shot attempt.
But Westbrook powered through the contact and banked in 15-foot runner, sparking pandemonium inside The Peake.
“That was an amazing play,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “Obviously, there was a lot of luck to that. But he put himself in that position to get a little lucky there.”