MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The last time his team was in Memphis, Russell Westbrook wasn't.
He was at home, watching a pair of Thunder playoff losses on TV, nursing the first significant injury of his career while witnessing his team's title hopes quickly fade because of it.
“It was tough, man,” Westbrook said of his third-party viewing. “It was tough. This team ended our season last year.”
But on Wednesday night against the Grizzlies, Westbrook, always one to search and find even the slightest motivation, finally got his first crack at a little revenge.
“(Last time), I was obviously at the house,” Westbrook said. “But (tonight), I was back, and I wanted to set the tone.”
And did he ever. Westbrook exploded for his third straight near triple-double, overwhelming the Grizzlies from the tip and sitting the entire fourth quarter of Oklahoma City's eventual 116-100 win over Memphis because of the big lead he helped create.
In the first quarter, Westbrook jumped on an overmatched Grizzlies backcourt. He had a quick 10 points, four rebounds and four assists, showing no signs of a guy who played 35 minutes in another city the night before.
“Russell's a no-excuse player,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We can play back-to-back, we can play four in five nights, we could play every night for a month. He's going to come in and play the game that he loves to play every night.”
Then late in the second quarter, after the Grizzlies cut the Thunder lead to three, Westbrook was the key to a 17-5 run to close out the half.
He started it by hitting a pair of free throws, continued it by assisting on four straight Thunder hoops and iced it with a long-range 3-pointer.
“He's playing his game no matter what,” Kevin Durant said “He is getting confidence. We tell him, nobody can stop him.”
And nobody did in the third quarter either. Westbrook scored 12 points in the first seven minutes, helping extend the Thunder's lead to 19 before going to the bench for good with 15 minutes left.
Overall, Westbrook finished with 27 points, nine assists and six rebounds in a season-low 27 minutes. And the Thunder finished with 116 points, three shy of a season-high, with 89 of those coming in the first three quarters.
In the playoff series against Memphis last year, the Thunder only averaged 89.6 points in the five games, never scoring more than 97.
The biggest difference: A healthy Westbrook.
But it certainly wasn't the only one.
Memphis was playing without Marc Gasol — the reigning Defensive Player of the Year who is out with a knee injury — and Tony Allen, a tough-nosed perimeter defender who would have likely been assigned with slowing Westbrook had he not been nursing a hip injury.
“That changes their whole team,” Durant said of Gasol's absence. “He's a guy who can pass from the high post, score from the low post, shoot that jump shot. He does a lot for them. They really miss him. So you have to put this thing in perspective and if Gasol was there, it would definitely be different.”
But Westbrook and the Thunder will take it all the same, their third straight win and 12th in their last 13, with this one accompanied by a tinge of revenge.
“It was great,” Westbrook said. “I got my work done early.”
And he got to watch the fourth quarter from the bench, likely a more satisfying viewing experience than the last time his team was in Bluff City.