With the Thunder trailing 84-72 and 2:58 remaining in the third quarter Wednesday night, NBA official Scott Foster ruled OKC point guard Russell Westbrook had lost the ball out of bounds while driving to the basket against the Phoenix Suns.
With a stoppage in play, both teams headed to their benches for a media timeout. Westbrook instead lagged behind, animatedly pleaded his case with Foster and was slapped with a technical foul.
After receiving the “T,” Westbrook continued to argue with Foster, who easily could have ejected the two-time All-Star with another technical.
Westbrook was still emotional as teammates met him at midcourt and finally steered him toward the bench.
OKC coach Scott Brooks routinely sends in a substitute for Westbrook around the two-minute mark of the third quarter, but rather than taking out Westbrook so he could regain his composure, Brooks opted to leave him in the game.
It wound up being a wise decision because the game immediately flipped, and the Thunder went on to post a 115-104 victory before another sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Once trailing by 16 with 4:13 left in the third quarter, OKC wound up with its largest come-from-behind victory since Dec. 8, 2010, when it trailed at Milwaukee by 19 points.
Westbrook provided a huge spark, scoring 14 points after the technical foul and not missing a shot from the field. He finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.
And it all might never have happened had Brooks decided to bench Westbrook.
“The temptation was there,” Brooks said. “He was able to control his emotions going back into the game. He knew that he had to. We wanted to give ourselves a chance, and we had to keep our composure as a team. He's the point guard of our team. He needs to keep his composure.”
Asked if regaining his composure was on his mind during the timeout, Westbrook smiled and said: "Nah, (I) came back and got a steal."
Indeed, just 12 seconds after play resumed, Westbrook capped his midcourt steal with a dunk and a Thunderous comeback had commenced.
OKC outscored Phoenix 43-20 the remainder of the game and sealed it with yet another four-quarter, clamp-down effort defensively. The Thunder outscored the Suns 31-16 in the final period as Phoenix shot just 17.6 percent (3 for 17) from the field.
During his discussion with Foster, it appeared Westbrook was trying to explain he had said something to the Phoenix bench and not to Foster.
“Yeah, there was a little mix-up, but I've just got to watch my emotions and try to not get no more,” said Westbrook, who now has eight technical fouls on the season, five short of drawing a one-game suspension.
“He wasn't frustrated with the ref, he was just frustrated at himself,” Brooks said of Westbrook. “He said something to somebody, I don't know. But at that point, it's an emotional game. You know there's a chance that you'll get a ‘T.' You just have to suck it up. … You've got to control your emotions and that's the bottom line.”