7:00 PM ET, November 3, 2013
Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
OKLAHOMA CITY -- After a six-month layoff, Russell Westbrook looked a lot like his old self.
Kevin Durant had 33 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder, who won their fifth straight home opener and defeated Phoenix (2-1) for the 11th straight time. The Suns last beat Oklahoma City (2-1) in December 2010.
Windhorst: Like He Never Left
Quick-healing Russell Westbrook looked as explosive as ever on his way to 21 points, four rebounds and seven assists, Brian Windhorst writes. Dime
Westbrook, sidelined after first tearing the lateral meniscus in his right knee during the second game of the NBA playoffs, then having a medical setback, returned three to five weeks ahead of the team's previously announced timetable. He said before the game he never thought it would take him that long to come back.
After the game he said he felt a little rusty but seemed satisfied with his effort.
"I just missed some easy ones but that will come," Westbrook said. "I'm able to do what I want. I could be better but that's all right. That's expected. I'm not expected to come back and be bionic man. I'm just going to work my way through it."
Thunder coach Scott Brooks came away impressed with Westbrook's outing.
"There are two things that (Westbrook) does at a high level," Brooks said. "He wins. He's a winner. The guy plays the game like it's supposed to be played. It's not always going to be perfect but he plays with everything he has every single night. To me that's inspiring. The second thing is leadership. It's taken him some time to get that . Now he is our leader."
Brooks wasn't as glowing about the team's shooting.
"Obviously, we've got to shoot the ball much better," he said. "We can't continue to shoot that from the 3-point line. I don't like to talk about it much but it's hard to hide 2 for 18. But I will say this -- I believe in the guys taking shots. They're getting good looks. . They're going to fall."
Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images
Russell Westbrook returned weeks ahead of schedule and scored 21 points in OKC's home opener.
Eric Bledsoe scored 26 points -- one off his career high -- and added a career-best 14 assists for Phoenix, which opened the season with home wins over Portland and Utah. The Suns stayed with Oklahoma City thanks to 14-of-37 3-point shooting but eventually were done in by 23 turnovers.
Serge Ibaka added nine points and 10 rebounds for Oklahoma City.
Phoenix led 79-73 after a 3-pointer by Bledsoe with 7:46 left, but the Thunder scored next eight points, including layups by Westbrook and Reggie Jackson, the latter putting Oklahoma City ahead 81-79 with 6:11 left.
The Suns pulled within 95-92 before Durant slammed home a missed layup by Westbrook with 32.8 seconds left. Gerald Green hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cap a 21-point performance, but Westbrook and Durant combined to go 6-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 29.3 seconds to seal the win.
"Our guys fought hard and that's a good team and we had a chance to win on their court, so I'm pretty happy with the effort," Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said.
"That's the ultimate goal, when you go on the road, is to have a chance at the end, especially a team like this. It's very difficult to win in this gym. We were right there and had some chances."
Westbrook underwent an initial surgery for the injury on April 27. He underwent another surgery on Oct. 1 to remove a loose stitch from the first procedure. At the time, the Thunder said he would miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. Under that timetable, Westbrook could have been out for as many as 22 games.
Instead, he missed only two games -- a win at Utah on Wednesday and a loss at Minnesota on Friday.
Usually the first player announced during pre-game introductions, Westbrook instead was the last and he drew an enormous roar from the sellout crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena. A team spokesman said after the game that Durant -- who usually is introduced last -- asked that Westbrook be announced last instead, although Durant declined to take credit for the idea when asked about it.
"It was good for him to be back," Durant said. "I know how much he loves the game. The crowd was great. Unbelievable. Classy group of fans. Always behind (Westbrook) and accepted him so well tonight. It was cool to see."
Westbrook immediately returned to his aggressive self on the court, scoring his first basket at the 7:16 mark of the first quarter on a driving layup.
It quickly became apparent, however, that the Thunder will have to readjust to having Westbrook in the lineup. Oklahoma City struggled with its shooting in the first half, going 16 of 40 (40 percent) and allowing the Suns to lead 45-44 at halftime.
Frye scored 19 points and Goran Dragic had 10 for the Suns on 5-of-9 shooting before leaving the game with a sprained left ankle at the 10:08 mark of the third quarter.
Hornacek said the ankle Dragic injured is one "that's been bothering him before so hopefully he's not out too long." He didn't say if Dragic might miss any games . Despite the closeness of the game, Brooks played 11 of the 13 players who suited up and all for at least 8:47. It was evident that rookie Steven Adams is now the backup center, having supplanted Hasheem Thabeet, one of the two players who didn't see action . The sellout was the 89th straight during the regular season at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - NOVEMBER 03: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder looks to pass the ball against...(Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Around The Association
MVP: Kevin Durant delivered yet another typically sublime performance: 33 points on 9-of-18 shooting and 10 rebounds. It wasn't the easiest, nor prettiest, win for the Thunder, but Durant delivered when his team needed him the most.
X factor: Russell Westbrook's surprising return to the starting lineup gave the Thunder a much-needed jolt. Westbrook did look a bit shaky, but he had more than a few flashes of his normal brilliance -- a swift, no-look pass to a cutting Durant and a terrific block on the taller Mason Plumlee, to name two.
Defining moment: The Thunder had two back-to-back fast-break layups -- the first by Westbrook, the second by Jackson -- midway through the fourth that finally got the Thunder into a rhythm they'd previously been missing the entire night.
Next 5 Games
Russell Westbrook was supposed to be out the first 4-6 weeks of the season but is returning after missing just 2 games. Westbrook had 11.6 win shares last season... Had he missed 6 weeks, he would have missed 21 games. Taking into account his win shares, that would have cost the Thunder roughly 3 wins. Last season, just 4 games separated the 1 through 5 seeds in the Western Conference. Getting Westbrook back could essentially be the difference between home court throughout the playoffs and being on the road for the first round.
Russell Westbrook's season debut was pretty similar to another star point guard, Derrick Rose. Both were decent when shooting near the basket, but when they were 5 feet or more from the hoop, both struggled. Westbrook was just 1-of-7 from 5 feet or more Sunday, while Rose in his debut was 1-of-8.[+]
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