OKLAHOMA CITY — Four nights earlier Russell Westbrook shot his team out of an epic comeback against Denver.
Wednesday, he was a different player. And not just different, effective, but entirely different and entirely effective.
The Thunder eventually ran away from the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night 100-83 inside Chesapeake Energy Arena and the most surprising number from Westbrook’s stat line, believe it or not, were his team-high 23 points.
When did he score?
He hit two 3-pointers, and given recent struggles, they registered. So did a 16-foot pull-up bank shot, because hardly anybody uses the backboard any more.
So did the one that followed, his final field goal, a 14-foot fadeaway swish that completely turned Cavs rookie Collin Sexton around.
On the way down to the other end after that one, Westbrook rocked the baby to sleep, getting Sexton to crack up with him as they crossed mid-court.
That was 10 of his points.
The rest, who knows?
They hardly registered because the thing that really grabbed from Westbrook’s night were his other numbers: 19 rebounds and 15 assists.
Who puts up a 23-19-15 triple-double? Russell Westbrook, coming off a game he’d rather forget.
“They were some mismatches that I thought Russell exploited and kind of got us back in the game,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said. “… He was reading the floor and he was able to make some plays.”
He seemed to make every play and grab every rebound.
Westbrook didn’t enter the second quarter until 8:43 remained and the Thunder trailing 33-22.
However, in that final 8:43, Westbrook dished six assists, grabbed five rebounds and, though he took just three shots and scored just five points, took over the game, rallying the Thunder to a 47-47 halftime deadlock and setting the template for the second half that would follow.
The man himself didn’t have an answer for why it happened — “I just play,” he said — but it most certainly happened.
He let the game come to him and delivered his finest performance of the season.
“Everything that he did tonight flowed out of our offense,” Donovan said. “When the floor was spaced correctly, it gave him opportunities on double teams to make some reads.”
Westbrook added four more assists, five more rebounds and five more points in a third quarter that left Oklahoma City leading 73-62.
The rest of the game the Thunder edge never dipped below nine points and would rise as high as 20.
“He draws so much attention that he makes it easy on us,” said Jerami Grant, who registered four of Oklahoma City’s season-high 11 blocks, while adding 21 points on 8 of 12 shooting.
Limited to 25 minutes of court time due to foul trouble, Paul George still finished with a cooly efficient 18 points on 8 of 13 shooting.
“We made the game easy,” George said.
Jordan Clarkson led the Cavs with 25 points off the bench, making 10 of 22 shots and 4 of 8 from 3-point land. Sexton added 21 and 10 rebounds and Cedi Osman finished with 14 points.
In a bunched Western Conference, the Thunder find themselves 13-7 after 20 games — five more wins than last season at the same juncture — in fourth place, yet only one game back of conference leader Golden State.
Friday, they should win again when the next-to-last-in-the-Eastern Conference Atlanta Hawks visit.
If Westbrook can do something close to the same thing again, it ought to be easy,