After a five-month absence, meaningful basketball finally returned to Oklahoma City on Sunday night.
And it came with a major game day surprise.
Hours before tip-off, news leaked that Russell Westbrook, the Thunder's All-Star point guard who was expected to be out until at least December, would return a month early to the OKC lineup.
And come game time, it was a good thing he did, as Westbrook led the Thunder to a 103-96 win over the Phoenix Suns in the home opener.
“I'm comfortable,” Westbrook said postgame. “Very comfortable. I'm making any move I want. I missed some easy ones that I usually make, but that will come.”
In his first game back from a pair of knee surgeries, Westbrook put up 21 points, seven assists and four rebounds.
But more important than the numbers, he controlled the game with his athleticism and skill, while opening up opportunities for his unburdened teammates.
“When you have a guy like that, who can easily erupt for 40 points, he just gets everybody open with his aggressiveness,” Kevin Durant said. “He was able to make it easier for me, Reggie (Jackson) and Serge (Ibaka).”
Down the stretch, his presence was particularly important.
After re-entering the game with 7:48 left, with OKC trailing the pesky Suns 76-73, Westbrook erupted for eight points and three assists in the closing moments.
Re-energizing a previously stagnant offense, Westbrook scored on a pair of acrobatic layups, found Derek Fisher and Serge Ibaka for two crucial and-1s, then finished off the game with four clutch free throws.
“It's Russell Westbrook,” Durant said. “Three-time All-Star, 23 (points), five (rebounds) and seven (assists) the last three years. They got to respect it. He put pressure on the defense all night.”
The Thunder, now 2-1 on the season, will face Dallas in a nationally televised game on Wednesday night at 8:30.
There's still plenty of early season kinks OKC must work through, particularly its steady long-range shooting struggles (the Thunder was 2-of-18 from three on the game).
But with Westbrook back in the lineup, optimism reigns.
“He wins,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He's a winner. It's not always going to be perfect, but he plays with everything he has every night.”
And on this night — home-opening night — that was good enough for OKC.