OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook vowed to be better in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers, and with 33 points on 11-of-22 shooting and 11 assists in a 120-108 win Friday night, he followed through.
“Man of his word,” Paul George said. “He came out, he led, we got behind him and he put us on his back.”
After losing Games 1 and 2 in Portland to fall into an 0-2 hole, the Thunder were backed into a virtual must-win as the series turned back to OKC. Westbrook set a tone early with his trademark intensity, but cranked it to another level as the Thunder built a lead in the third quarter. That’s when the fun started.
Westbrook swatted a layup attempt by Blazers guard Damian Lillard with 10:15 left in the third quarter and turned to the baseline crowd, yelling something. It caught the attention of Lillard, who said something in return to Westbrook, who then started talking back. The next OKC possession, Westbrook posted on Lillard and hit an and-1 jumper over him, celebrating with a demonstrative rock-the-baby move. Lillard smirked at Westbrook.
“I didn’t even see him do it,” Lillard said. “A lot of times, I’m waiting for the ball to be inbounded. So I’m not looking at what’s going on going the other way. So, rocked the baby on a jump shot — you can do that all day.”
Lillard, who to that point was swarmed by the Thunder and held to only six points, erupted for 25 in the third, including 23 after Westbrook’s rock-the-baby celebration. Lillard’s 25 third-quarter points were the most in a single quarter by any player since Allen Iverson had 26 on June 1, 2001, against the Bucks in the fourth quarter.
Lillard denied Westbrook’s move added any motivation and focused more on the fact his team was down double digits and needed him to up the aggressiveness.
The Blazers came back to tie the score early in the fourth quarter, but Westbrook responded brilliantly with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting. He rocked the baby over Lillard one more time — a little less emphatically this time around — and after sinking a dagger 3-pointer with 1:20 left, he pointed right at Lillard and had more to say.
Lillard engaged with some more talk shortly after with George, and then Westbrook joined in, with Westbrook eventually picking up a technical foul with 41.5 seconds left.
“That’s just how he is,” said Blazers center Enes Kanter, a former teammate of Westbrook’s in OKC. “He’s going to scream and yell, he’s going to try and get under your skin. But I think Dame and CJ [McCollum] did a really good job standing up there in coolness.”
Thunder guard Dennis Schroder also got in the mix, mocking Lillard’s trademark “Dame Time” gesture by tapping on his wrist with the Thunder up 12 with two minutes to go. Schroder said he saw Lillard do it in the first two games and was just returning the favor.
Lillard acknowledged he saw Schroder’s gesture.
“Yeah, I did see it,” he said. “I thought it was kinda funny that he waited so late in the game, when he knew the game was decided, to do it. And he also hadn’t done that, he hadn’t pulled that out the first two games. So I thought that was interesting.”
And to cap it all off, with the Blazers and Thunder taking their starters off the floor down 12 with 20 seconds left, George stayed in to shoot free throws. The Blazers missed a layup on their final possession and the ball tipped out ahead to George who threw down a reverse double-clutch dunk as the buzzer sounded (it didn’t count).
“I mean, it was after the clock, but just doing that — I don’t really care,” Lillard said. “It’s the playoffs, people do things that maybe they’re trying to get under somebody’s skin, or maybe trying to make a statement, or, I don’t know. It don’t matter. The game was over; the game was decided. Typically, people say you don’t do stuff like that; but honestly, I really couldn’t care less. The game had been decided; and if that’s something they needed to do to make themselves feel more dominant or feel better, then so be it.”
Asked why he decided to throw down the dunk, George said, “Next question.”
Game 4 is Sunday in Oklahoma City.