The same Russell Westbrook who willed the Houston Rockets to victory on Saturday against the New Orleans Pelicans with his tenacious rim attacks and offensive verve is so very familiar to the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom the Rockets will host on Monday.
In recording his 139th triple-double to surpass Hall of Fame icon Magic Johnson for second place in NBA history, Westbrook did a lot of everything in the Rockets' 126-123 triumph. All of it matched what was long ago etched on his resume, primarily his ability to turn defensive rebounds into transition opportunities and his willingness to pressure defenses with paint forays.
Westbrook posted 28 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists and was integral to the Rockets' 60-48 advantage on points in the paint. When Houston bridged the final two periods with a 13-0 run, the rally came courtesy of Westbrook doing what is required when the situation called for it.
"That's a part of my job, and that's one of my tools I can bring to the team is attacking the basket, whether it's for other people of for myself," Westbrook told reporters. "I think that was something that allowed us to fuel our run that we had."
Westbrook spent most of the previous 11 seasons doing the same for the Thunder. He claimed league Most Valuable Player honors by hurling himself at the rim and into the teeth of the defense with reckless abandon, by corralling rebounds and executing a mad dash up the court.
Unrelenting intensity not only set the foundation for what Westbrook became with the Thunder, especially after Kevin Durant departed for Golden State, it left his teammates in awe. Now those former teammates are fully aware of what to expect when they face Westbrook: unbridled fury.
"Yes, it's going to be fun," Thunder guard Dennis Schroder said of facing his former teammate. "I think for everybody, it's going to be exciting just competing against him. I think he's ready to go off, so we've got to stop him."
Houston will have the benefit of facing a second consecutive opponent playing the second leg of a back-to-back. The Thunder dismantled the Golden State Warriors 120-92 on Sunday, leading by as many as 42 points in the wire-to-wire victory. The result served as a needed boost for the Thunder, particularly offensively, following losses to Utah and Washington in which they averaged 90 points.
Having largely dismantled their roster this past offseason, the Thunder are dealing with modest expectations and the chore of having to rebuild with a multitude of new pieces in place.
"Like I've said in the past, we'll get better at that with us playing together more and more," Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. "I'm just excited for the future."
The immediate future features the challenge of stifling their former linchpin. And after earning a much-needed win over the Warriors, the Thunder won't have long to celebrate the achievement.
"It's the NBA," Gilgeous-Alexander said. "You play so many games you've got to forget the one you just played and get ready for the next one."
--Field Level Media
Thunder get first look at Westbrook as opponent