Friday Bolts: 01.10.20

Friday Bolts: 01.10.20

A special night. An emotional night. A winning night. The Oklahoma City Thunder absolutely crushed the Houston Rockets in Russell Westbrook’s return.

Erik Horne (The Athletic) writes that, even with Westbrook on the other bench, the Thunder were ultimately fueled by Russell. “In the 113-92 win, the Thunder channeled all of the energy bouncing between Westbrook and those fortunate enough to be in the building and used it to thrash the Rockets in one of their most comprehensive wins of the season.”

The Thunder welcomed Westbrook with a really impressive tribute video, followed by a stirring ovation by the Oklahoma City crowd.

Brett Dawson (The Athletic) has the story behind the tribute video. “No previous player — not Durant, who made seven All-Star teams with the Thunder, not James Harden or George, not Serge Ibaka — got the full tribute treatment Westbrook did for his first game against the Thunder in Oklahoma City. A Houston Rocket since a July trade, Westbrook was back in Chesapeake Energy Arena as a visitor, but afterward he’d say it ‘felt like home.’ The Thunder worked to make sure of that.

I really liked that that the team gave Westbrook his traditional introduction.

Last night also debuted this year’s City Edition jerseys, done to honor he victims of the 1995 bombing. The jerseys looked amazing, and are already among the Thunder’s best.

Joe Mussatto (The Oklahoman) with quotes from the players on the City Edition uniforms. “Chris Paul: ‘Guys on the team, we were excited to wear them. Steve-O in the locker room was like, ‘When are we wearing them again?’ Sam (Presti) did a great job of explaining to everybody the designs of them. The tree on the shorts and the gates on the side of the jersey. It’s a huge significance. And when you play here, you understand that you’re not just playing for yourself or the team.”  “Guys on the team, we were excited to wear them. Steve-O in the locker room was like, ‘When are we wearing them again?’ Sam (Presti) did a great job of explaining to everybody the designs of them. The tree on the shorts and the gates on the side of the jersey. It’s a huge significance. And when you play here, you understand that you’re not just playing for yourself or the team.'”

Not only did the Thunder fans treat Russ to a warm reception, Russ gave lots of respect to OKC. First by wearing his Zero Regrets shirt and second with a special edition set of his Why Not Zer0.3 shoes.

Harden also had a little nod to OKC with his kicks:

Tim McMahon (ESPN) details how the Thunder honored Westbrook in his first appearance at Chesapeake Energy Arena as a member of the Rockets. “The Oklahoma City Thunder had never played a tribute video for the return of a former player. But Russell Westbrook is certainly unique. The video played before the Houston Rockets’ starting lineup was introduced Thursday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Deafening cheers and a familiar chant drowned out the introductions of the other Rockets’ starters.”

Leading up to the tip, Westbrook was given a passionate ovation. After the tip? The largest ovations were reserved for Oklahoma City’s new point guard, Chris Paul. And for good reason, as Paul continued his stellar play, which continues to garner recognition locally and nationally.

Chris Herring (Five Thirty Eight) believes that Paul found a time machine. “Paul’s arrival prompted reports that he, too, might be dealt quickly — both to allow him to chase a ring with a title contender and to allow the new-look Thunder to collect even more assets. But eventually the music stopped, and it became clear that the 34-year-old and his enormous contract would stay put. Little did we know that ending up with the Thunder would unlock this renaissance version of Paul — one that can take over games and legitimately be the NBA’s best closer.”

Robin Lundberg (SI.com) asks whether the Houston Rockets made a mistake trading Paul. “When Paul was shipped to Oklahoma City he was viewed as a contract albatross headed to NBA purgatory. Now, one of the greatest floor generals of all time (alongside his young backcourt mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) has the Thunder positioned for the playoffs in the Western Conference. The team is certainly following CP3’s lead, especially in crunch time. Paul’s mastery over the forgotten territory that is the midrange has helped him lead the entire NBA in clutch points, on 54-39-95 splits. Which is in direct contrast to Rockets replacement Russell Westbrook who has struggled with his shot with a true shooting percentage in danger of falling below 50%.”

Greg Swartz (Bleacher Report) discusses how CP3 made the Thunder a playoff contender. “Trading Paul George in July meant the Oklahoma City Thunder were in danger of missing the playoffs in 2019-20. Trading Russell Westbrook a few days later meant losing the heart and soul of the franchise. Now, Chris Paul is bringing both back.”

The Thunder are rebooting, but not by bottoming-out, writes Michael Lee (The Athletic). “The moment that Paul finds himself in – as the upbeat, good-time leader of a franchise that’s rebooting without bottoming out – is not one that many could’ve foreseen last summer, let alone two months ago, when it seemed that the 15-year veteran was merely biding his time until the Thunder found a taker for his future Hall of Fame skillset and supersize contract. But the foundation for Oklahoma City’s turn as a playoff contender after losing an MVP and an MVP finalist in the same offseason was laid down the first time Paul met with Donovan. “He told me, ‘Coach, I only know one way. I’ve got both feet in the circle. I’m going to give you everything I got. I’m here to help the group and try to win,'” Donovan said of that first conversation with Paul. “He said, ‘All this other stuff going on, I love the game, I love competing and I can’t do anything halfway.'”

Dan Devine (The Ringer) says the Thunder have hit the sweet-spot with their rebuild. “My friend Paul Flannery of SB Nation told me something last year that stuck with me: ‘The best time you can have in [the NBA] is right before you get good.’ There’s a vibe, an electricity, and a warmth that seems to pulse through a team that’s figuring out what it can be while it’s still free from the weight of expectations and the need to have all the answers right this second. Tune in to an Oklahoma City game these days, and chances are you’ll find yourself feeling that kinetic energy. A mix-and-match Thunder roster stitched together in the aftermath of two foundation-rattling trades—a bunch of dudes with two or fewer years of NBA experience, a couple of journeyman vets, a giving tree, a pair of potent and underrated scorers, and a point god—has blown past underwhelming preseason projections and cemented itself as a bona fide playoff team rather than a resident of the shaky lower half of the Western Conference. While Russell Westbrook and Paul George continue to enmesh themselves in the fabric of their would-be title contenders—a process that figures to get a little emotional for Westbrook on Thursday, when he’ll enter Chesapeake Energy Arena as a visitor for the first time—the rebooted and retooled Thunder are finding their own way to win. And they’re having fun doing it.”

Michael Pina (SB Nation) digs into how the Thunder put together the NBA’s most potent three-guard lineup. “Some basketball teams never discover their best self. They can’t find the right offensive system, rotation, or defensive strategy. For any of a million different reasons. In an alternate universe, Oklahoma City could’ve easily seen their three point guards as an unplayable hindrance. Instead — at 21-16, five games ahead of the eight seed and four games back of the two seed — they might be the NBA’s most potent triumvirate. There are 536 three-man lineup combinations that have logged at least 200 minutes this season. Paul, Schroder, and Gilgeous-Alexander lead all in net rating, outscoring opponents by 26.7 points per 100 possessions, with an offensive and defensive rating that would rank first by a country mile.”

I can’t even. Chris Paul did Isaiah Hartenstein dirty.

While the Thunder were curb-stomping the Rockets, former Thunder center Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Durant were mired in a Twitter-feud:

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