First, the good news. Russell Westbrook is back.
Do you read me? RUSSELL WESTBROOK is back! Russell the Lionheart returned to the lineup of merry old OKC. He missed all of 11 games that mattered.
Seemed like 11 hundred.
Now the bad news. The Thunder needed virtually all of Westbrook's 32 minutes and 45 seconds to put away the hapless Phoenix Suns 103-96 Sunday night.
The Thunder's offensive quagmire continued in game 3 of the NBA season. In fact, I figure Westbrook got the medical clearance to play about eight minutes into that fiasco Friday night in Minnesota. The Thunder offense has been abysmal so far.
Of course, there's rusty and there's messing-around-with-Phoenix-at-home rusty.
No way should the Thunder trail the Suns by six points with 71/2 minutes left in the game. No way should Phoenix be within two points with 30 seconds left.
But until the Thunder starts making shots or working its way through offensive morass, victory of any kind will be much appreciated.
And this one was. It would have been a shame to ruin Westbrook's return, a full month ahead of the Thunder's pessimistic prognosis.
The arena erupted when Westbrook led the squad onto the court for a pregame layup drill, and it exploded again when Westbrook was the final Boomer announced with the starting lineups, a magnanimous gesture by Kevin Durant to let his sidekick have full a hero's welcome.
But truth is, the ‘Peake sat strangely sedate most of the night, despite the rare mix of a home opener with a Westbrook return. Bad offense will do that to a building.
Yet Westbrook's will was greater than his team's futility or his own rustiness. Westbrook was like most of his teammates and couldn't make a jumper to save his meniscus, but that's never deterred him before.
Westbrook kept attacking the rim like only he, and maybe Derrick Rose, can do. Four of Westbrook's five baskets came on drives to the hoop, two of them in the fourth quarter. And such aggression also led to foul shots (Westbrook was 11 of 14 from the line) and opportunities for his teammates.
“Russell is Russell Westbrook,” said Kevin Durant, which sounds like a goofy quote but actually was quite the poignant reminder. “He puts you on the defensive all night. It's good to see him being aggressive and playing freely.”
Seeing Westbrook throw himself at the basket warmed Loud City hearts. Also inspired Westbrook's teammates.
Despite continued horrid outside shooting (two of 18 on 3-pointers, both makes by Durant), the Thunder at least turned a little fearless itself.
Reggie Jackson made five field goals; two on drives, one on a runner and two on layups. Jeremy Lamb made three field goals; two came on runners. Durant scored on two drives and got himself fouled enough to get 13 foul shots.
And the ageless Derek Fisher scored nine points; seven came on drives in which he made in-traffic layups or was fouled.
If you can't swish ‘em, pound ‘em.
The Thunder seemed to look at Westbrook and say, oh yeah, that's how we're supposed to play.
“He does more than just score,” said Lamb. “He leads by example and he always attacks, putting the defense on their heels. I think that rubbed off. It gave everybody a boost.”
No holes in that theory. It's a little disconcerting that the Thunder needed Westbrook against the Suns. But it's awfully comforting to know that the Lionheart is back.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.