The third quarter’s final seconds blinked off the clock as Russell Westbrook dashed up court.
Then, the Oklahoma City point guard stopped on the “C” in the red-lettered “STAPLES Center” inscribed on the court, took aim, and fired a long three-pointer.
Immediately after his buzzer-beating bull’s-eye shot, Westbrook shot the crowd a smile, blew on his smoldering-hot fingers and holstered them.
If he had a “C” stitched on his Thunder jersey on Thursday night, it would’ve been fitting, as the Long Beach native and former UCLA star captained his Western Conference-leading squad to a 102-93 victory over the Lakers.
In 42 minutes, Westbrook scored a game-high 36 points, dished six assists and had only one turnover to carry the Thunder (39-12) on a night when Kevin Durant had a subpar game by his standards: 21 points.
“Russ is an aggressive player -- that’s his game,” Durant said. “He came out making shots, we all rallied behind him and we got a good win.”
The rally came after halftime, when Durant had 10 points, Westbrook had nine and the Thunder trailed by five.
“Kevin and I started a little slow, the game got kind of out of whack,” Westbrook said. “And my job was to pick us up.”
Westbrook picked them up -- and then some, bulling his way up the court possession after possession, taking on all defenders in his path, one on four if the situation was such, sinking jumper after jumper or drawing a foul and then converting shots the free throws.
Westbrook scored 17 points in the quarter while the Lakers as a whole managed 19.
And when it had ended, when his three-point shot rattled in as the third-quarter buzzer sounded, the Thunder led by 10.
“You’ve got to give a guy like Russell Westbrook credit,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said.
His performance had shades of past Lakers-Thunder matchups, when Westbrook torched the Lakers down the court and muscled his way to points, in one form or another. In those games, former Lakers guard Derek Fisher was criticized for letting Westbrook blow by him.
On Thursday, Westbrook did the same to any other Laker who dared to stop him, while Fisher enjoyed his vantage point as Westbook’s teammate.
“I’m glad I played my career when I played because I couldn’t stop players like Russell,” Oklahoma City Coach Scott Brooks said. “The guy is an amazing player. He’s aggressive, he’s strong, but his work ethic is what makes him good. He brings effort every game and every practice.”
Aggression, as Durant and Brooks said, is the name of Westbrook’s game. He uses his speed to put pressure on opponents, routinely catching them on their heels while he’s speeding toward the basket.
“Stay aggressive,” Westbrook said, describing his mindset. “Just stay aggressive, get in the paint, try to find guys or look for my shot as well.”
He’s also known for having trigger-happy shooting streaks, even when he’s off target.
Against the Lakers, he connected on 13 of 27 shots, making 10 of those after halftime.
And with 57.2 seconds left in the game, with the Lakers having cut their deficit to seven, Westbrook pulled up for his final shot from about 17 feet.
Immediately after the scoreboard tallied his final points of the evening, he shot the crowd a final look, balled his right (shooting) hand into a fist, pounded it into his chest and strutted toward the bench, his chambers empty.
Immediately after that, many Lakers fans started filing out, their hopes of an upset win dashed by a hometown kid who now lights up his hometown teams.