Last time, Westbrook splashed through a deep three-pointer to put the Thunder ahead, 115-114, with just 2.3 seconds left:
Unfortunately for OKC, that wasn't enough to put away Golden State, which celebrated a playoff-caliber victory at Oracle Arena after Andre Iguodala nailed a baseline fadeaway jumper at the buzzer:
This time around, Russ made sure there weren't enough ticks on the clock for the Warriors to fit in a retort. With precious seconds slipping away and the Thunder down by two, Westbrook caught an out-of-bounds save from Jeremy Lamb, turned and fired up a contested three from the left corner that splashed through the net with but a tenth of a second left on the clock to all but seal OKC's 113-112 win:
Here's another angle, courtesy of Daily Thunder's Royce Young:
Here's yet another from the crowd (again, hat tip to Royce Young):
And here's one more from the stands, just in case the first three looks weren't enough to satisfy your appetite:
Okay, so maybe Westbrook didn't exactly intend to whittle the clock down as much as he did. By the looks of things, he was just trying to get a decent look at the basket, not so much make sure that Golden State wouldn't have time to respond.
Either way, it worked out for Westbrook and the Thunder.
And not just on the shot itself. Westbrook was largely responsible for the creation of his game-winner, in addition to its launch. When Serge Ibaka's elbow jumper clanged off the iron, Westbrook was there to bat the ball away from three Golden State bigs and into a spot where only a leaping Lamb could make a play.
It was the sort of energetic, borderline reckless play from Westbrook to which we'd all become accustomed over the years, but that some feared might be scrubbed from his game after the All-Star guard suffered the first major injury of his career during the 2013 NBA playoffs.
If that one possession was any indication, Westbrook's knee is doing just fine. So, too, is his mind, which is just as important to an athlete's recovery from a physical setback. Chances are, if Westbrook weren't confident in the strength of his knee, he'd have hesitated to crash the glass after being "denied" a pass by Kevin Durant and might not have jumped up high enough to make the one-handed catch of a ball that probably would've otherwise wound up in Harrison Barnes' hands.
But that sequence of events, as spectacular as it was for Westbrook, was only the icing on the cake of a superstar-caliber night for the UCLA product. Westbrook led all scorers with 34 points, got to the free-throw line 15 times (hitting 12), came up with five steals and dished out seven assists, with just one turnover on his personal ledger. Defensively, Westbrook's effort and energy were integral to making Stephen Curry work for his 32 points and flustering Klay Thompson into a 5-of-19 shooting night.
More importantly, Westbrook's efforts allowed the Thunder to keep pace in the Western Conference standings with the San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers while dropping the Warriors to a so-so 9-8 on the young season.
On the whole, OKC appears to be getting its house in order again.
Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson (a combined 16 points on Friday) are providing a reasonable facsimile of the bench production that once came courtesy of James Harden and Kevin Martin. Rookie center Steven Adams (five points, seven rebounds, one assist, one block) has been solid up front, and stepped in nicely for Kendrick Perkins once the oft-pitiful pivot dislocated his finger in the second quarter.
Kevin Durant (25 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two blocks) is once again leading the league in scoring, all the while stuffing the state sheet about as well as he ever has. Serge Ibaka (18 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks) is just now settling in as a reliable third banana on offense, all the while altering (and swatting) shots on the defensive end, as he did while victimizing David Lee on more than one occasion.
But Westbrook is the one player who can (and often does) set the Thunder apart from the competition. He's been criticized at times for lacking the change of pace and the sharp shot selection of some of his point guard peers. His hellacious energy, while thrilling to watch and effective more often than not, has cost OKC in the past and, perhaps, will in the future. His five turnovers in Oakland two weeks ago probably cost the Thunder much more so than did his decision to launch the lead-changing shot.
On this night, though, that fearlessness, that tenacity, that drive, that confidence—all of which, in combination, set Westbrook apart from the rest—worked to OKC's advantage, as they so often do.
We'll have to wait until January 17th to see these two young, exciting teams go toe-to-toe again, when they'll meet at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
As for Westbrook, he'll have plenty of opportunities to showcase his signature, frenetic brilliance on the basketball court before and after then.
Let's talk about how awesome Russell Westbrook is, shall we?