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The Return: Thunder (22-16) def. Rockets (25-12)

The Return: Thunder (22-16) def. Rockets (25-12)

Official Box Score: OKC 113 – HOU 92

What an absolutely perfect night in Oklahoma City. A wire-to-wire 21-point Thunder blowout victory. Chris Paul nutmegging Isaiah Hartenstein. Russ’s tribute video and resounding ovation. Darius Bazley’s pre-game fit. Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Durant beefin’ on the Internet. Where do I even begin??

Let me start by saying that the OKC Thunder came to play last night. It was Russell Westbrook’s night to be appreciated by Thunder fans; but after the starting tip, it was all about the current Thunder team and making a big statement on national television. This is not a rebuild. Their December domination was not a fluke. The Thunder are coming.

The Thunder’s 16-5 record since Thanksgiving is the best in the Western Conference and they are 11-2 in their past 13 games. They currently sit at the 7th seed in the Western Conference but are only 1.5 games behind the Mavericks for the 6th seed (5 games ahead of the 8th-seeded Spurs).

Last night, OKC held the Rockets to a season-low 92 points and held the NBA’s leading scorer, James Harden, to just 17 points on 17 shots. Terrance Ferguson had the defensive performance of his lifetime guarding Harden and breaking through screens left and right to keep up with him. Additionally, Ferguson drained 2 more three-pointers, which puts him at eight made threes in the past four games. Schröder continued his strong campaign for Sixth Man of the Year with 16 pts on 7-11 FG. Danilo Gallinari scored 10 points in five minutes. Five Thunder players scored in double figures. OKC had 6 more free throw attempts than the Rockets (no easy task). Finally, Coach Billy Donovan looks like he’s having the time of his life coaching this team:

Last night’s win was the kind of dominant team win that Thunder fans longed for in the final years of Russell Westbrook’s time in OKC. Even when Russ was paired with Kevin Durant or Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, the offense was usually centered around those all-stars with little to no meaningful contributions from the other starters and definitely not from the bench. Now, behind excellent coaching from Billy Donovan and Chris Paul’s leadership, this team is an arsenal of weapons that other teams will have a hard time containing.

Overall, it was the perfect return for Russell Westbrook and an even better performance by the Thunder. Russ’s shooting was efficient — he finished with 34 points and 5 assists — and he received the adoration of Thunder fans that he deserves. But in the end, the Thunder’s fast-paced offense and relentless defense stole the show. Thunder fans will always be grateful for everything Russell Westbrook did for our team and our franchise, but a new era of Thunder basketball is here and man, is it exciting to watch.

Notes on Westbrook:

  • Russell Westbrook arrived at Chesapeake Arena wearing his “Zero Regrets/Thank You Oklahoma!” shirt from his clothing line, Honor the Gift. A *shocking* number of non-Thunder people on the Internet do not understand what this shirt means. During the game, he wore a custom pair of Why Not Zer0.3’s, which display his career stats with the Thunder.
  • The Thunder debuted their “City Edition” uniforms, which honor the lives lost and affected by the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing. We should have made black uniforms a long time ago because these uniforms look awesome (in addition to being extremely meaningful for Oklahomans).
  • Before the game, the Thunder played a special tribute video for Russell Westbrook (who is the only Thunder player to receive a pre-game tribute video). When he was introduced, he received a standing ovation so loud it was reminiscent of the 2012 Playoffs. Good job, Thunder fans.
  • Russell Westbrook had an excellent game. He finished with 34 points, 5 assists, and 2 rebounds. He still hasn’t earned a triple-double against OKC (the only team that he hasn’t posted a triple-double against). He was particularly efficient last night (14-26 FG), especially in the post when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was on him. He drained a three and hammered down a fast-break dunk to mostly subdued cheers, which was weird (but the right move by Thunder fans).
  • After the game, Westbrook visited with his former teammates and coaches. He hugged Steven Adams and Clay Bennett. In the post-game interview, Westbrook emphasized his close relationship with Clay Bennett and thanked Bennett for everything he has done for him on and off the court.

Post-game Media: