Russell Westbrook made it clear early that Game 2 was going to be different.
On the first possession of the night, he snagged a steal, then in the process of gathering the ball and heading up court, he ran counterpart Chris Paul into an official. It was whistled a foul on Paul. Then, Westbrook got an offensive rebound and drew a foul on Blake Griffin. Then, he dished an assist to Kevin Durant.
The game was less than a minute old, but the Thunder point guard was already filling the stat sheet.
Setting the tone, too.
“I think Russell probably played harder than all of us combined,” Paul said. “He was all over the place.”
On a night when the Thunder needed to win on home hardwood and even up this Western Conference semifinal – and did just that with a 112-101 victory -- Westbrook made sure that this series turned around. He scored. He rebounded. He assisted. He defended. He hounded.
In the process, Westbrook notched his third triple-double of these playoffs.
No other player has even one triple-double in this postseason.
Roll that around in your head a minute. Westbrook 3, rest of the NBA 0.
His triple-double numbers: 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists. He became the fifth player in the last 25 seasons with three or more triple-doubles in one postseason. The others: Magic Johnson, LeBron James, Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo.
Westbrook added three steals and plenty of defensive headaches for the Clippers. What’s more, Westbrook contained Paul, who managed only 17 points and 11 assists. Maybe that seems like a lot, but compared to what he did in Game 1, the damage was minimal.
Two nights after Paul dominated this matchup with eight three-pointers, 32 points and a career night, Westbrook showed that he wasn’t going to back down. Yes, Paul is great. Sure, he might be the best point guard on the planet.
Then again, maybe not.
The point guard battle royale is back on.
And it is because Westbrook went right at Paul. He drew that foul on the opening possession. Then, he just kept coming. He crashed the boards. He looked for contact. He drove to the basket. For as good as Paul is, he’s more jitterbug than bruiser, and with Westbrooks height and size advantage, he used that to his advantage.
Less than halfway through the first quarter, Paul picked up foul No. 2 and had to go to the bench.
“It’s tough to guard him as it is,” Paul said, “but you get two bad fouls early in the game … it makes it that much tougher.”
It was particularly tough on Paul’s replacement, Darren Collison. He’s even more slight than Paul, and Westbrook continued his physical ways.
He took Collison to the basket time and again. Sometimes, Westbrook got his own shot. Sometimes, he got great shots for his own teammates.
“My job is to find a way to get into the paint,” Westbrook said. “I thought that was the best way to us my height, to use my size.”
By the time Paul came back in the game at the start of the second quarter, Westbrook had already scored 10 points, grabbed three rebounds and dished three assists. He was rolling, and once a train like that is barreling down the tracks, it’s hard to stop.
That was one of the biggest problems that the Thunder had with Paul in Game 1. He’s not known as a spectacular outside shooter, but leave him open, and he’ll shoot. He did that a couple times, and when the shots fell, he got rhythm and confidence. After that, even when the Thunder played good defense on him, there was no stopping him.
Same went for Westbrook on Wednesday night.
“Westbrook, he gets criticized a lot, but I don’t know why,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “The dude plays hard.”
Tuesday afternoon, Durant said just about the same thing during his MVP acceptance speech. He gushed about Westbrook, saying that the point guard would “run through a wall for me.”
Westbrook did just that and then some Wednesday night.
If Westbrook can win the point guard battle a few more times like this, the Thunder will be tough to beat. In this series. In any series.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.