Chris Paul and the Thunder Hammer the Rockets on Westbrooks Homecoming
Russell Westbrook's return to Oklahoma City became Chris Paul's coronation. The crowning moment came with 7:29 left in the game when Paul "nutmegged" Isaiah Hartenstein to put the Thunder up 101-79. In that one moment, if the NBA didn't know it before tonight, they found out just how far this Thunder team has come since being thrown together in a matter of weeks over the Summer. Westbrook scored 34 points in Houston's 113-92 loss to the Thunder, and in the end, it was a footnote.
All too often, we've seen the movie play out where a former Thunder comes back to town with his new team and walks away with a win. Not that the Thunder weren't inspired for past matchups, but they were always outmanned. That was not the case Thursday. The Oklahoma City defense locked down the highest-scoring offense in the NBA and held them to 92 points highlighted by the way Terrance Ferguson and Dennis Schroder were guarding James Harden. The night before Harden went off for 41, 10, and 10, on Thursday, he settled for 17 points on 5 of 17 shooting.
Danilo Gallinari's stock is going to keep shooting up if he continues to produce at this pace. After having the night off in Brooklyn because of a knee contusion, Gallinari put up 23 vs. the Rockets in 28 minutes of action. Gallinari who played with a Clippers team that was an NBA surprise last season was asked to compare that experience to what's going on with the Thunder this season; "There were not a lot of expectations after the trade, the players that we had last year and the players that we have this year I thought we could do very good. " Very good is an understatement the Thunder are western conference-best 16-5 since Thanksgiving.
After the game, an emotional Westbrook spoke to the media saying, "I don't regret one thing being here in Oklahoma City.".."I feel like I left everything out on the floor every single night."..."I did what I could for the city." Westbrook earned the right to be the first former Thunder player to receive a tribute video and the monstrous ovation he got from fans. While Kevin Durant may not be happy about the city's affection for Westbrook (see his twitter fight with Kendrick Perkins), Westbrook's decision to stay after Durant left will always make him the favorite son.
The Thunder will catch another break on Saturday when they host the Lakers. Los Angles will be in the second of back to back after playing the Mavericks on Friday. Tipoff is 7 pm on Fox Sports Oklahoma.