Russell Westbrook sauntered to the bench, saddled by two fouls in the first two minutes, 20 seconds Wednesday night against Washington.
His position battle with Wizards point guard John Wall had quickly shifted heavily in Washington's favor.
The depleted Wizards couldn't have scripted a better start.
Short six bodies, they were dependant on their floor general, and with Wall coming off a career-best 47-point night, odds were he was about to go off.
The Thunder — and eventually Westbrook — had other ideas.
Led by a game-high 21 points from Westbrook, the Thunder overpowered Wall and the shorthanded Wizards, 103-80, inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, snapping a surprising two-game losing streak to Washington.
In the end, it was the point guard duel that decided this contest.
Westbrook managed to shake off his early foul trouble and spend the final 23 minutes of his playing time applying pressure on the Wizards with non-stop attacks that led to layups and trips to the free throw line. He made five of eight shots and 10 of 11 at the foul line. He added four rebounds and four assists.
After returning for the start of the second quarter, he scored 13 of his points in the period, playing all but the quarter's final 20 seconds.
“A lot of times when you have two quick fouls you don't want to get the third foul because you know you're going to come out in that second quarter,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “But he was still aggressive. He played his game and he gave us a spark in that second quarter.”
Various injuries and illnesses left Washington without 40 percent of its roster, including key cogs such as promising rookie Bradley Beal, big man Nene and wings Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster. Their absences left Wall staring at a suddenly stingy Thunder defense that hadn't allowed more than 89 points in the previous three contests.
And now the game plan was geared toward stopping Wall, specifically keeping the speedster out of the paint. It's the same goal Washington had hoped to accomplish with Westbrook. Only the Thunder succeeded.
Wall scored 18 points with 12 assists and four rebounds in 35 minutes but missed 15 of his 18 shots in what he admitted was a stressful night. Twelve of Walls misses came from 10 feet and beyond, as the Thunder clogged the paint and made the notoriously poor shooter settle for shots that are not his strengths.
Wall made just one jump shot, a pull-up from 13 feet. His other two baskets were on fast breaks, one of them on a lucky bounce off teammate Trevor Booker.
“We wanted to make sure that he did not get into the paint and get any easy shots early,” Brooks said. “We wanted to make him a jump shooter and I thought we did a good job of that.”
With Wall struggling, and Washington without four of its next five best scorers, the Wizards were toast. They shot 32.1 percent, which marked the 17th time this season the Thunder has held an opponent under 40 percent shooting.
“I thought we did a good job on the pick-and-roll and helping the helper,” said Thabo Sefolosha, who shared duty defending Wall throughout the night. “I think that was the key. Communication has been pretty good the last couple of games and it was good again tonight.”
The Thunder took a 53-45 halftime lead after holding Washington to 30.4 percent shooting in the opening half. The Wizards hung around by working their way to the foul line, where they made 13 of 17, and hitting the offensive glass to rack up 16 second-chance points. The Thunder at that point had only two.
Wall, however, was just 1-for-11 from the field at the break.
The night never got better for him nor his team.
“They got a lot of guys injured, so we knew he was going to come out and try to be aggressive,” said Nick Collison. “We just tried to keep a tight paint and not give him a lot of daylight to get to the rim.”