OKLAHOMA CITY -- At a certain point in the third quarter, you could feel it coming. Russell Westbrook was forcing the issue, missing shots, taking bad ones and seeming to ignore his superstar teammate on the wing.
The critics were drooling, ready to unleash on Westbrook for a selfish Game 1, likely preparing to pin a miserable home defeat on his shoulders.
But he kept coming. And coming. And coming. He didn't change course, didn't adjust his game. He continued with his trademark maverick style, gunning each possession, never pausing to come up for air.
Westbrook always toes that fine line between reckless and relentless. When he finds the proper dosage, he's breathtaking. He can completely taking over a game, owning the floor.
And as the Thunder searched for a third quarter spark, it was clear: Russell Westbrook wasn't going quietly. He scored 12 of his 27 in the third while also setting fire to his team and setting a new tone for the second half.
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"[I was] just frustrated in myself, know I could have played harder," Westbrook said of his second half turnaround. "And our coaching staff and other guys on the team just emphasized once I started playing harder everybody else will follow, and that's my job."
Nobody on the Thunder staff or roster was willing to say Westbrook played a poor first half instead only citing the fact he missed shots. And while Westbrook had six assists, he was appearing to force the issue too much, not playing with much of a flow to his game.
But that changed after the break and while Westbrook just attributes it to playing harder, the reality is, he started playing better.
Those assaults on the paint were done with control and not desperate abandon. He kept his head up, looking to pass first, shoot later. He resisted the urge to fly at the rim, instead picking his spots to slice into Miami's defense. It was the same Russell Westbrook, but different.
"I think he was just getting a feel for the game," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "The thing about Westbrook is he'll just keep on coming, so it doesn't matter time, score of the game or what just happened the play before. He's going to continue to be relentless."
That's the razor thin edge of Good Russell and Bad Russell. The good thing is that he keeps on coming, never stopping to think twice about his next attack. The bad thing is that he keeps on coming regardless of what just happened and maybe didn't work, never stopping to think twice about his next attack.
He plays the game in his own world with an incredible amount of passion and emotion. Take for example the double-technical he was involved in right before halftime. He didn't mind it, instead he almost seemed to embrace it. He kept waving at the crowd, urging for more. That's Westbrook, just playing his own way and not pausing to let anyone tell him different.
The Thunder are overwhelmingly talented across the board with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and a deep bench, but Westbrook is going to be the one that makes them go in this series. His line in Game 1 was stellar -- 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds -- but it's his never-say-die kind of attitude that's contagious. The Thunder fell behind early again, citing nerves and anxiousness in the biggest game of their lives, but they remained headstrong, battling back.
Largely behind the play of Westbrook, who wasn't taking anything lying down.
"I thought Russell did a good job of managing, controlling the game," Scott Brooks said.
That sounds simple, but control is often the key with Westbrook. And he had only two turnovers in a frantic, hectic Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the wildly athletic Heat. Westbrook was Westbrook, for all 48, never stopping to apologize for it. Which is exactly what the Thunder need.