Russell Westbrook savors sweet win after string of losses to Warriors

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook stood at midcourt, looking in the direction of the Golden State Warriors' bench. He had an expression on his face that suggested he was trying to make it look as if he wasn't looking at anything in particular, but he definitely had a reason for it.

With his hoodie wrapped tightly around his head, Kevin Durant popped up and walked into Westbrook's field of view. Westbrook said something, sort of to nobody but loudly enough for Durant to hear. With the Oklahoma City Thunder up 23 midway through Wednesday's fourth quarter and Durant on the bench, Westbrook was "wondering" why Durant wasn't in the game. Durant looked at the scoreboard and made the equivalent of the thinking emoji.

Durant didn't come back in, and that was the last interaction of the night between the two, as the Thunder stomped the Warriors 108-91 behind 34 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists from Westbrook. He was electric, he was dynamic, he was nearly flawless. With each play he made, whether a big shot or a cannonball at the rim, he glanced at the Warriors' bench.

The Westbrook-Durant story has plenty of history, and another chapter was written Wednesday. The only place they speak nowadays is on the basketball court, and it's always under tense circumstances.

Westbrook makes sure everyone knows that he plays every game the same way, and though that's largely true, it was clear that he had a little something extra for the Warriors. When he and Durant ended up forehead-to-forehead in the third quarter, with both getting technical fouls, it was a crescendo of the inevitable. It's always difficult to read lips in those situations, but let's assume the things said weren't about what they were going to have as side dishes with Thanksgiving dinner.

"I'm coming at your neck every single night," Westbrook told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth after the game, "and I'm gonna let him know that."

The game almost seemed therapeutic for Westbrook. After seven consecutive losses to the Warriors dating to May 2016, when they came back from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference finals to beat OKC, Westbrook wanted this. He put up an admirable fight in the four regular-season games against the Warriors last season, but the gap between the teams was clear.

But in Westbrook's first Warriors showdown with his new teammates, a roster assembled with a pretty direct attempt to match up with the defending champs, the Thunder swarmed and suffocated Golden State's offense. Paul George was destructive on both ends of the floor; Carmelo Anthony stretched it with a series of trailing 3s. Steven Adams controlled the paint; Jerami Grant, Patrick Patterson and Andre Roberson provided athleticism and defensive elasticity. Westbrook was the kerosene that lit it all on fire.

For a team that has sputtered to a degree nobody expected, handling the Warriors gave signs of being a galvanizing moment. Westbrook had his own score to settle, but within that, the emotional tone he set was something his teammates fed off of.

"That's my game. That's my gift," Westbrook said. "To be able to come out every single night with my energy and my enthusiasm to be able to keep my team going."

The typically reserved George let out a shimmy following a momentum 3 and a fist pump after he forced a Durant turnover. Anthony was feeling the crowd, taking his 3-point celebration up to the notch where sweat was flying off his headband. The Thunder have harped on focus and "mental stamina" a lot as part of their struggles this season, but at least on Wednesday, playing with an uptick in emotion seemed to be a remedy.

The Thunder didn't want to go as far as saying that beating the Warriors is going to be a springboard for them. They have a difficult game Friday, as the Pistons come to town, and multiple players focused on the things they need to do better. But the Thunder showed what they are capable of and why this collection of stars can be something special.

"I think tonight shows who we can be, who we want to be and who we think we can be," Anthony said.

The Thunder have a lot of games left this season, and one win over the Warriors in November doesn't mean much, particularly if they turn around and lose Friday. But there was a clear attitude adjustment. Westbrook was intent on forcing it, maybe because of a personal vendetta or maybe because he sensed that his team needed it on another level. The Warriors are the team against which the Thunder want to measure themselves, and if they want a standard to shoot for on a nightly basis, they set it on Wednesday.