INDIANAPOLIS — The way it set up, this was supposed to be the most impossible of missions.
It was the second night of a back-to-back, a game for which the Thunder didn't arrive until 4 a.m., at a place in which it had won only once in the past four seasons, against the league's best defensive team, one that came in rested and rolling, having won eight of their previous nine but benefiting from being off since Monday.
Oh yeah, and an Indiana victory would give the Pacers the Central Division title, their first in nine years.
Exhaustion easily could have replaced energy.
Fortunately for Oklahoma City, it has the biggest Energizer Bunny in basketball.
Russell Westbrook rallied the Thunder to what was undoubtedly the team's best win of the year given the circumstances, a 97-75 victory on Friday night inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse. It was a victory that pulled the Thunder even with San Antonio in the standings and ensured Thursday's thumping of the Spurs wasn't for naught.
“I think it was a very good win,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “I don't know where it ranks, but I know it has to rank up there with some of the best wins of the year for us. I just like the fact that we came out with a focus and did not let up.”
For that, Westbrook was worthy of the praise.
With relentless attacks, either on post-ups or bursts to the basket, Westbrook applied pressure on the Pacers from the start. He scored 12 of his 24 points in the opening period, both providing his team the spark it sorely needed while also sending an early message to Indiana that it would be a long night.
“I thought he was great,” said Nick Collison. “A lot of times, if he can start the game like that and get us some offense it bodes well for us because it sets the pace and we're attacking the rim and not settling for jump shots.”
Westbrook took 24 shots, but the inefficiency seen in his box score didn't matter.
“I thought it was important for us not to come in the game and try to feel it out and try to see how they were playing and how we were playing,” Westbrook said. “And my job as a point guard is to stay in attack mode and that's what I did.”