Westbrook wins battle of guards vs. former teams

NBA.com Global on Oct 29, 2019 03:19 PM
Westbrook wins battle of guards vs. former teams
Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook, left, talks with referee Brian Forte after being assessed a technical foul during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

By Michael C. Wright, NBA.com

HOUSTON -- Russell Westbrook scrapping under the rim for a loose ball with good friend Steven Adams set the tone for odd visuals Monday in a clash between star point guards facing their former teams.

Oklahoma City point guard Chris Paul returned to Houston for the first time since the Rockets moved him for first-round picks and pick swaps over the summer to acquire Westbrook, who dominated the night of reunions by nearly logging his second consecutive triple-double (21 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists) to fuel a 116-112 triumph.

In doing so, Westbrook nearly became the first player to post triple-doubles against all 30 NBA teams.

“This is how it goes,” Westbrook said. “When I hoop, I have no friends. On the court, they know not to talk to me. Steven’s a real close friend of mine. But inside those lines, there’s no friends. Spalding, that’s my friend, and my teammates. That’s it. If you try to be my friend, I ain’t gonna say s--- to you.”

Shortly after saying those words, Westbrook walked down the hall to the Thunder locker room, where he hugged coach Billy Donovan before entering as his former teammates dressed. Westbrook played 11 years for the Thunder before the July trade, and earned NBA All-Star recognition on eight occasions in addition to capturing the 2017 Kia NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

“He obviously has done an enormous amount for the organization, for the state and the city,” Donovan said. “I’ve always respected how hard he competed and played. We had a chance to spend four great years together. It was good to just connect.”

As Westbrook strolled into the locker room, several Thunder officials approached him for hugs. Glass of water in hand, the point guard eventually settled near Adams’ locker adjacent to injured guard Andre Roberson. Nearby, Paul dressed and joked that Westbrook could be fined by the league for entering the opponent’s locker room, which drew laughter from all over the room.

Westbrook eventually moved to Paul’s locker, where the two talked quietly for several minutes.

On the floor, though, Westbrook overcame a slow start to dominate over the final three quarters which helped push the Rockets to their second consecutive victory. Westbrook finished at a game-best plus-19, while James Harden led all scoring with 40 points. Westbrook has posted a 20-point double-double in all three of Houston’s games this season, including a triple-double Saturday in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Westbrook has also pulled down 38 rebounds over his first three games, which ranks as the most by a Rocket through the first three games of the season since Dwight Howard registered 51 rebounds during the 2013-14 season.

In addition, Westbrook moved into 20th on the NBA’s all-time assists list (6,918).

“He just brings a different dynamic to the game: his speed, his pace, his athleticism, his playmaking ability,” Harden said. “He does so much and creates for his teammates. It’s pretty tough to guard. He’s a superstar. But he’s getting offensive rebounds, he’s hustling. He’s doing the dirty things that help you win. It feels good to have that on your side.”

On the other side, Paul didn’t fare as well against his former team, finishing with 15 points and four assists. Paul missed his first five shots, making his first bucket with 54.9 seconds left in the first half.

At the 5:57 mark of the first quarter during a timeout, the Toyota Center played a tribute video featuring Paul’s days as a Rocket that lasted a minute and 30 seconds, ending with the message of “Thank you CP3.” The crowd gave Paul a standing ovation as he waved to the fans from the bench area, before hugging Houston guard Eric Gordon as he checked back into the game.

“The fans here were always great to me. Some of the people here became like family to me,” Paul said. “And I try to stay in touch with those who were as genuine as could be. I had some great memories here. I’m grateful to the fans for how they always treated me and my family. I’ll forever be grateful for that.”

Paul played two seasons in Houston (2017-19), averaging 17.1 points, 8.0 assists and 5 rebounds, before the club traded him to Oklahoma City. Paul helped the Rockets to a franchise-best record of 65-17 in his first season, but they fell in the Western Conference Finals to the eventual champion Golden State Warriors.

With the Rockets leading that series 3-2, Paul suffered a hamstring injury that forced him out of the last two games.

“He’s one of the best point guards that’s ever played and still is. What he does is incredible,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “With his knowledge of the game, his competitiveness, he’s going to be around for a while. He was just really good for us. It’s hard to win a whole lot more than what we won with him. We could’ve gone a little bit further in the playoffs. One year, he just got a hamstring problem. Then the next year, it just didn’t work out. It’s hard to be better than what he was.”

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.

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