Whose team is this anyway?
We could have sworn it was Kevin Durant's.
Lately, though, Russell Westbrook has been the man with the plan for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
He was again in Sunday's playoff-clinching 99-90 win over Portland inside Oklahoma City Arena.
While Durant, the franchise player, the scoring champ, the First-Team All-NBA selection and the two-time All-Star, was busy going 0-for-8 in the second half, Westbrook, the third-year point guard, snatched the reins and steamrolled the Blazers with one big play after another.
Westbrook scored 14 of the Thunder's 21 fourth-quarter points against the Blazers, canning five of seven shots in the decisive period en route to his team-high 28-point night. When the Thunder's offense was stuck in mud at the start of the period, it was Westbrook who willed it out. Oklahoma City went 0-for-6 from the field in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter. Four of those misses were from 3-point range, as the Blazers shut off driving lanes to the paint. The Thunder also turned it over twice.
But then Westbrook came alive.
He hit an 11-foot, pull-up jumper to give the Thunder an 81-79 lead. Two minutes later, Westbrook drilled a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 87-82. He then drilled another 3 to push the margin to 90-82.
“Not quite by design, but they were switching (on every screen) and Marcus Camby was guarding him,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “They were big shots. I'm not going to sit up here and say they were great shots, but they were big shots.”
Westbrook closed the game by corralling a loose ball after a Serge Ibaka block on Blazers point guard Andre Miller before racing the other way for an uncontested layup. It put the Thunder ahead 94-88 with 52.9 seconds to play. And on the game's most critical possession, Westbrook iced the win with his third 3-pointer, an unexpected dagger from a career 26.9-percent 3-point shooter that put OKC up 97-90 with 21.9 seconds remaining.
“He has a tremendous amount of pride and confidence in his game,” Brooks said. “Give him credit. He made the one early and that gave him confidence. He stepped up and made a big shot.”
Which brings us to a pertinent question.
Who should be closing games for the Thunder?
The long-held belief has been Durant, who still is and will continue to be the lead man of this marching band no matter how many games Westbrook puts away. But with Durant's well-documented struggles in last-second spots, and Westbrook's emergence with the game on the line, it's a question the Thunder has to find an answer to with the playoffs looming. Only 10 regular season games remain.
The beauty of this Thunder team is that it has two players who are capable of being closers. And there doesn't seem to be any misunderstandings between them.
“We trust each other,” Durant said. “I think that's the best thing ... It's a long season. I'm not going to close the game out every game. He knows what he has to do. He's an All-Star now.”
Westbrook says, and has shown, he'll willing defer to Durant if he's got it going. And Durant insists he doesn't mind stepping aside if he doesn't.
“Whoever's open,” Westbrook said. “If they're doubling KD, I'll probably try to make a shot for myself or try to get the ball back to him one way or another. But if not, I try to get the best shot possible.”
Sometimes, the two might alternate, as they have in the past down the stretch.
For now, the important thing is both Batman and Robin, whichever one is which in crunch time, is on the same page.
“We got to live with it if I miss a shot or if he misses a shot because we're the main guys,” Durant said.