The criticism of Russell Westbrook is sure to return.
For one night, he silenced the critics and the haters that dominated the past couple days, but the Thunder point guard is sure to do something or not do something at some point in the next couple games that will have folks yammering again.
But when that happens, remember this — Westbrook is the reason that Oklahoma City has a chance to come back and win the Western Conference Finals.
Sure, things look gloomy after a scintillating Saturday at the Oklahoma City Arena turned sour.
Mavs 93, Thunder 87.
But if you're seeking hope after Dallas took a 2-1 lead in the series and stole back that road game Oklahoma City snagged two nights ago, Westbrook is your guy. He can dominate this series, and he might've just realized it Saturday night.
He went into beast mode late in Game 3, beating Jason Kidd or J.J. Barea or just about any other Maverick off the dribble, then assaulting the rim despite the likes of Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood patrolling the paint.
“Just trying to attack,” Westbrook said. “Just trying to stay in attack mode and trying find us a way to get the clock stopped or get to the line.”
Trying to maybe win the darn thing in the process.
Listen, the Thunder fell behind by 23 points in the first half of this game. It was an inexplicable lack of effort and intensity. A team that looked so sharp, so locked in only 48 hours before scored only 12 points in the first quarter.
Everything that happened late might've been window dressing on a catastrophe, but that doesn't change the fact that Westbrook was getting just about anything he wanted.
“He's a great player,” Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “I think all the talk about Russell's got to stop.”
It probably won't.
Westbrook has become the most analyzed and scrutinized player in the NBA. Everyone from Charles Barkley to Skip Bayless has an opinion on everything the guy does.
Westbrook has been nit-picked more than an elementary school classroom during a head lice outbreak.
It's ridiculous, frankly. No NBA player is perfect, but for whatever reason, Westbrook has become the guy who has every action scrutinized. Every play. Every reaction. Every expression.
So when Thunder coach Scott Brooks substituted for Westbrook after a turnover late in the third quarter of Game 3 and the two exchanged words, pundits' heads started spinning. Those noggins almost exploded when Brooks decided to stick with all of his reserves plus Kevin Durant throughout the fourth quarter.
Nevermind that OKC won the game.
Oh, and the fact that Westbrook had been darn good through the first three quarters? Forget that, too, apparently.
But here's something that was oh-so obvious Saturday night — the Thunder would've lost by 40 points if not for Westbrook.
He scored 30 points, and while some might want to lambast him for taking 20 shots or committing seven turnovers, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he was getting to the rim and there was nothing that the Mavericks could do to stop him.
Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said that his team played championship-caliber defense for the first time in the series.
Yet, he has to be scared of what he saw from Westbrook in the fourth quarter.
The guy showed in Game 1 that he could get to the rim against the Mavs, but he just couldn't finish anything. He had alligator arms — everything was coming up short.
Still, you figured he'd eventually start capitalizing against the Mavs.
Eventually came Saturday night.
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Westbrook said. “Just try to play the same way I've been playing all year long.”
Truth is, the way he has handled the critics has been admirable. A lesser guy would've cracked long ago.
“It just shows his personality,” Sefolosha said. “The whole team's behind him no matter what.”
Keep playing the way he played Saturday night, and Westbrook won't just have his teammates behind him. He'll have them on his shoulders.