Thunder fans give Russell Westbrook a hand — and he answers back

BY MIKE SHERMAN, Sports Editor, msherman@opubco.com Published: December 30, 2011
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photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) takes the ball on a fast break after a steal in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. In the background Shawn Marion (0) of Dallas. Oklahoma City won, 104-102. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) takes the ball on a fast break after a steal in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2011. In the background Shawn Marion (0) of Dallas. Oklahoma City won, 104-102. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

The landing was not pretty. Westbrook lost his balance and pitched forward into the stands. As James Harden and another teammate went in after him, there was this pause, a dramatic one as it turns out.

The Thunder's man-down, hands-down approach yanked Westbrook off the floor. And as he walked to the free-throw line the chant began.

“RUSS-ELL, RUSS-ELL, RUSS-ELL.” It wasn't the M-V-P chants that greeted Durant late the last two seasons. Not nearly that loud or long, but a little more heartfelt.

Durant sure felt it. In fact, he was egging it on.

Westbrook, whose free throw completed the 3-point play, sure felt it.

“It's amazing what these fans will do for you,” Westbrook said.

Said Brooks, “I've never seen in my NBA 20-something years what the crowd did.”

“They knew he was struggling. He struggled, and they were chanting his name.

“This is a special place to play. I've never seen it before. That's what being a team is always about.”

That play — that chant — didn't win the game. Durant took care of that. But it definitely accomplished something. Westbrook was Westbrook after that. He went 3-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter, was aggressively pressuring Jason Kidd and became the force of nature the Thunder needs him to be.

His final line wasn't anything too special: 16 points on 6 of 15 shooting, four assists and seven turnovers. But it was hard to leave the arena without feeling something had turned for Westbrook.

“I just tried to stay positive,” he said. “My teammates kept encouraging me. I know I could come in and change the game defensively. That is what I did, and it led to some offense.”

And a special moment.


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