Thunder’s Russell Westbrook doesn’t back down against Lakers
He didn’t want the pressure getting to him, even if it was the first playoff game of his NBA career. He didn’t want to change his approach, even if he was playing against the defending NBA champion Lakers and was playing before family and friends.
For Russell Westbrook, that meant staying focused and doing his part to help the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs Sunday at Staples Center.
Westbrook did his share, scoring 23 points, handing out eight assists, grabbing four rebounds, getting two steals and turning the ball over just once in almost 38 minutes of work.
It wasn’t enough to stop the Lakers from rolling to an 87-79 victory over the Thunder, but it was a start for Westbrook.
He is two years removed from playing at UCLA, where he left after his sophomore season.
He had never before played in a playoff game, the Thunder missing the postseason during Westbrook’s rookie season.
But as a second-year point guard on a team full of young talent, the 21-year-old Westbrook took stock of what was ahead and tried to treat the game like a regular-season game -- even if he knew it wasn’t.
“It felt the same. I tried to go out and tried not to do nothing different,” Westbrook said. “I tried to play the same way I’ve been playing all season long and just tried to compete.”
He did, missing just six of his 16 shots.
Westbrook played a big role in the Thunder slicing a 17-point Lakers lead in the second quarter to six points.
“I just go out and try to continue to compete and try and go out and get my team going,” Westbrook said. “I felt the flow wasn’t right. I just tried to go out and get my team going.”
His play in the second quarter and the start of the third showed that Westbrook wasn’t going to back down now that he was on the big stage.
He scored the Thunder’s last eight consecutive points in the second quarter and the first two points in the third.
And he did it in a variety of ways.
“Russell with his speed is really how he hurts you,” said Derek Fisher, who had the primary assignment of defending Westbrook. “He’s very fast and in transition, when we either turn the basketball over or we take perimeter shots and they’re able to get the rebound and go; that’s when we really got hurt today.
“So we’ll have to do a much better job in that area on Tuesday night. And that’s really where Westbrook really hurt us the most, in those transition situations.”
Westbrook began his outburst with a 14-foot jumper and a driving layup that he was fouled on. He missed the free throw.
He came right back and scored on a running 12-footer and another driving layup, which pulled the Thunder to within 47-39 at the half.
Westbrook opened the third quarter with another layup, bringing the Thunder to within 47-41.
“Russell has the ability to score,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. “I like the fact that he has the ability to score and pass. And tonight’s game, I thought he did that pretty well.”