Westbrook chuckled when asked if he entered the game with a “pass-first” mentality, perhaps because that’s been the stigma that’s followed him throughout his career. But on Tuesday, he played a brand of ball that looked much closer to John Stockton than Allen Iverson, recording eight assists in the opening period while going scoreless in his first 6 1/2 minutes.
“That’s just how the defense was playing,” Westbrook said. “Guys were open and my job was to get them the ball. I just play off my instincts, man. I never come in looking to shoot first, pass first, rebound first. I just play off instincts. (If) some guys help, I hit them. If they don’t, I keep going.”
Fueled by Westbrook’s big start, the Thunder had 10 assists on its first 10 field goals. OKC had 12 assists on its 14 first-quarter baskets.
Westbrook dished seven straight assists during a 21/2-minute stretch, accounting for 15 points as the Thunder turned a six-point lead into a 13-point advantage.
“Russell understands what makes us work,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “There’s going to be nights where he gets nine shots. There’s going to be nights where he gets 19 shots … He understands. The game is at a good pace for him, and he’s put a lot of work into his game and he’s battled a lot of adversity this season.”
Only now does Westbrook appear to be overcoming the obstacles. He’s performed better in each subsequent outing over the past four games. He had a 24-point, nine-assist night against Cleveland, a 21-point, six-assist showing against Memphis and dropped 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting Sunday against Charlotte, setting a personal best for shooting accuracy.
As he continues to recover from a third operation on his right knee, Westbrook said he’s trying to prove only one thing to himself.
“Just being smarter, that’s about it, man,” he said. “I’m just trying to learn the game. I sat out enough to be able to learn and see different things. And every game is different. So my job as a point guard is to learn the game and try to find a way to keep us winning.”
Highlights from NBA TV