OAKLAND, Calif. -- Draymond Green tossed the ball toward referee Marat Kogut after a call he was unhappy with, and with a second technical foul, his night was done early in the fourth quarter. Russell Westbrook popped off the Thunder's bench clapping, and waved Green off the floor.
Westbrook makes it clear often, or really any time someone asks, that he approaches every game the same way. After shootaround Tuesday morning in downtown San Francisco, Westbrook even made a reporter answer his own question when he dared pose that query again.
After four straight losses, the Thunder were appearing to stagger in the wake of Andre Roberson's injury. And while Westbrook might not have had something a little extra geared up, there's no question that against the Warriors, in their building, he really wanted this one, pushing the Thunder to a rousing 125-105 win. He finished with 34 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists, and as in the first meeting with the Warriors, ended the game watching the final buzzer with a towel around his neck on the bench.
"It's not about them, it's about our team," Westbrook said. "I don't want to make the story about them, that we beat them. It really don't matter who we played tonight, our job is to worry about our team, this locker room and that's all I worry about."
The Thunder have made a habit of performing well in the big games against the best teams, going 5-0 against the Warriors, Rockets, Cavs and Raptors this season, with an average winning margin of 16.5 points. Their struggles often have come against the perceived lesser teams, but when they play with the bright lights on and something to prove, they have shown up, and emphatically so.
"It don't catch my attention," Carmelo Anthony said of the Thunder's record against the best teams. "I'm with these guys every single day. We put the work in every single day. Maybe it catches you guys' attention, but I know what type of team we have, what type of group we are, what we're capable of."
Westbrook set the tone from the jump, dropping 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting plus four assists in the first quarter, punctuating his start with a hammer about midway through where he strutted and stared into the crowd, relishing any jeer or heckle thrown his way. The Westbrook way is to play at a 10 for as long as possible, and hopefully push his teammates to find their own spark from his.
"Russ was instant offense," Paul George said. "He put us on his back and established a no-quit mentality, a no-back-down mentality, and everybody just followed suit. We have all followed suit in that. It's our job as teammates to back him up and we did that tonight."
With Anthony leaving the game only six minutes in because of a sprained right ankle, and Steven Adams in foul trouble early, George answered the bell (38 points and six steals), supplementing Westbrook with about as good of a two-way game as any player has turned in this season.
George was dynamic, turning his own defense into offense, producing a number of signature plays but none better than in the third quarter when he stole a pass, then crossed Kevin Durant to put him off balance before canning a straightaway 3-pointer. Two possessions later, George assaulted the rim and detonated over Zaza Pachulia. Westbrook is always wired, but when George belts out a roar, you know something's really happening.
It felt as if the door was wide open in the third quarter for the Warriors to step through and take over the game with a trademark comeback, but it never happened. The Warriors missed a number of solid looks from deep, and the turnover problems were jarring. Aside from Durant (33 points on 8-of-14 shooting), there wasn't much there. Any glimpse of apparent momentum was either snuffed out by a head-shaking turnover or a George dagger.
The Thunder walked into Oracle Arena on Tuesday, a house of horrors for them in years past, facing the possibility of a five-game losing streak and instead stamped a second blowout win over the Warriors this season.
It wasn't that they played in a desperate fashion; they really just operated with focus and resolve. They had come so far since October, finally putting together the kind of basketball they knew they were capable of only to have the system shocked by losing a starter for the season.
Even through those moments when it appeared the game might tilt, Westbrook was unfazed. In the third quarter, Westbrook spent almost an entire timeout vibing to the music playing in the arena, bobbing his head and shuffling his feet. He was feeling himself, and his team, with his new running mate stepping up alongside as they stared down Durant's Warriors together and didn't blink.
Unlike the first win against the Warriors, there wasn't a celebratory feel or some sense of accomplishment in the Thunder locker room postgame. It was very casual and business-like, with no music playing or raucous laughter or joking. Westbrook's confidence is contagious, and it has made its way into the fabric of the team. As George spoke with reporters, he had a different look about him, a "that's what we're supposed to do" demeanor.
"It's just been us, that's been us," George said. "We're ready for these challenges, we're ready for the big games. All season long, it just comes down to consistency."
Westbrook said Sunday after the Thunder's loss to the Lakers that he loves adversity because it's a chance to come together and get closer. There aren't many players better at lifting a wounded team, or franchise, than Westbrook, he gave the Thunder everything they needed right on time again.