Let’s talk about last night. If you’re a realistic person who understands that losing is in the best interest of the Thunder this season, then last night was perfect. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, once again, looked like the type of player you could build your franchise around, other young guys like Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, and Terrance Ferguson showed flashes of untapped potential, and the Thunder put up a respectable fight against a championship contender on the second night of a back-to-back (and ultimately lost).
I’m not a realistic person, though. I hate losing. I fully understand the strategy, but I don’t know how to enjoy it as a fan. Even though the Thunder looked really good, I was still mad at the referees’ fourth quarter calls and I found myself wishing that Russell Westbrook would miss his free throws down the stretch (weird times). But, this is the new reality of being an OKC fan and I keep telling myself it could be a lot worse. At least we have a core of really solid players to watch every night instead of, like, Aron Baynes, Javon Carter, and Tyler Johnson.
That being said, the headline of last night was not the Thunder’s moral victories or even Dennis Schröder’s surprising stat line. It was Russell Westbrook… on the Houston Rockets. It was definitely weird at first and it took at least two quarters for me to stop instinctively cheering for his offensive rebounds. But overall, seeing Russell Westbrook on a new team was just really wholesome content.
When Russ normally plays former teammates, he acts like they don’t exist until after the game. He has famously stated that once he steps on the court, his only friends are Spalding (the basketball) and his teammates. Therefore, I was surprised to see Russ hugging and high-fiving the Thunder coaches and staff right before tip-off. When he hugged Mo Cheeks, I swear it melted my cold heart just a little.
Once the game started, Russ was just regular Russ. He was doing everything he used to do (fastbreak points, jumping higher than everyone to get a board, questionable shot selection, swishing pull-up jumpers, fighting Steven Adams for rebounds, etc.)… just while wearing a Rockets jersey. There was no fighting between Russ and his former teammates– although Russ did get a technical foul for talking trash to Thunder rookie Darius Bazley. But that’s not mean– that’s just a rite of passage for all rookies. Bazley talked trash right back to Russ, which only made me love Bazley more.
Russ’s first half was rough thanks to excellent defense from Diallo and Ferguson, but he found his shot in the second half and even went 3-4 from the free throw line (*sigh*) as Rockets fans chanted “Brodie! Brodie!”. He finished one assist shy of a triple-double, which means the Thunder are still the only NBA team that Westbrook has not recorded a triple-double against.
When the game ended, Russ went around and hugged every one of his former teammates and coaches again. When Westbrook spoke to the Thunder media after the game, he brought up his friend Spalding again and his actual friend, Steven Adams:
You can tell there is still genuine love between the Thunder organization and Russell Westbrook as well as Thunder fans and Russell Westbrook. I jokingly said that Dennis Schröder was better than Westbrook (Schrödie > Brodie) after Schröder hit his 4th three. It physically hurt to say something negative about Westbrook even if it’s clearly not true. It’s going to take a LONG time to unlearn my undying love for Russell Westbrook, but I’m hoping I won’t have to. I’m still holding out for Russ’s return to the Thunder even if it’s just for his final season.