Thunder wins after Westbrook outburst
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2013
1/31/13 at 11:36 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY – Among Russell Westbrook’s defining characteristics are speed, world-class athleticism and an apparently hot temper.
Memphis-Oklahoma City was billed as a midseason NBA showdown matching the Western Conference’s No. 2 team (Thunder) and No. 4 team (Grizzlies). Following Thursday's 106-89 Thunder victory, however, the primary topic of conversation wasn’t Kevin Durant’s 27-point performance or Westbrook’s 21-point, nine-rebound contribution. It was Westbrook’s third-quarter departure to the locker room, after he and teammate Thabo Sefolosha had an exchange of presumably heated words.
With 7:54 left in the third – with Westbrook obviously perturbed after committing a turnover – Thunder coach Scott Brooks pulled the All-Star point guard.
“There was a discussion (during) a timeout, and I decided to take Russell out,” Brooks explained. “Russell went to the (locker room). He just had to regroup.
“... “I knew he was coming back and would play in the fourth quarter, but I know we needed to take him out at that moment.”
Apparently, Sefolosha was out of position during an Oklahoma City possession. Westbrook wound up committing a turnover, and that resulted in the Westbrook-Sefolosha exchange.
Westbrook’s explanation: “Just a little miscommunication.”
When asked whether he believes that he needs to more effectively control his temper, Westbrook replied, “I control it like a man – like I did tonight.”
Westbrook returned to the game in the fourth quarter. On shots from the field, he and Durant finished a combined 19-of-33.
“It was a disagreement,” Durant said of the Westbrook-Sefolosha sidebar. “So many different emotions on one team. It wasn’t the first and it’s not going to be the last. We’ve just got to know how to respond to each other.
“I think we always do a great job of that. Luckily, on our team we talk it out. We don’t let it simmer for a long time. Russell came back and responded really well in the fourth.”
Sefolosha barely acknowledged the situation, saying, “I didn’t see anything. If you saw anything, you tell me. ... Regardless of anything, (Westbrook) is a big, big, big part of the team.”
Because Memphis has been a Thunder nemesis, with victories in four of its previous eight appearances at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Thursday’s contest was expected to be a stress test for Oklahoma City.
Instead, it was a mismatch for two periods. The Thunder shot 61 percent during the first half and led by 24 points at halftime.
After having missed on his first nine shot attempts, All-Star Zach Randolph fueled Memphis’ third-period surge to within 10 points, but the Thunder answered with big baskets by Durant, Westbrook and Kevin Martin (who finished with 16 points).
In its first home game since Jan. 16 (and only its third home date since Jan. 4), Oklahoma City shot 56 percent from the field and 21-of-25 on free throws. Memphis (29-12) played for the first time since swingman Rudy Gay was traded to Toronto.
The Thunder (35-11) visits Cleveland on Saturday and returns home for Monday’s meeting with Dallas.
OKC forward Nick Collison, who had 12 points on 4-of-5 shooting against the Grizzlies, also was asked about the Westbrook incident.
“I didn’t see what happened tonight, but I know (Durant and Westbrook) deserve a lot of credit – Russ, in particular,” Collison said. “He’s grown up a lot. We’re going to be fine. He’s had a great year. It’s not a big deal. We’re ready to go play against Cleveland.”
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (center) shoots between Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (left), forward Darrell Arthur (center, back) and center Marc Gasol (right) in the second quarter in Oklahoma City on Thursday. Oklahoma City won 106-89. SUE OGROCKI/AP