OKLAHOMA CITY — On his 29th birthday, Russell Westbrook took the floor with some extra flash, sporting a pair of striking, blaze-orange shoes bright enough to light the entire arena if the lights went out.
His first half didn’t match the neon Jordan 10s, though, with a muted nine points on 2-of-10 shooting featuring a series of missed jumpers, including an air ball. As the horn sounded at halftime immediately following an awkward turnover, Westbrook shook his head and clapped his hands together. He returned 15 minutes later fresh with new footwear, a pair of black-and-blue Jordans, the blaze-orange ones presumably in a trash can at the bottom of Lake Hefner. (They weren’t actually; they were sitting neatly in the bottom of Westbrook’s locker after the game.)
Westbrook’s third quarter in the new kicks: 16 points on 4-6 shooting, including 3-of-4 from 3, sparking the Thunder’s 112-99 win.
“They were working,” Westbrook said of the orange shoes. “They were fine. Just decided to switch.”
It’s not unusual for Westbrook to switch things up at halftime — he changes his full uniform at halftime of every game — but he clearly was looking to clear his head and start anew in the third quarter. As Westbrook likes to do, he created a little game within the game with the Mavericks bench, apparently telling them he was going to do … something.
After his first 3, a straightaway pull-up, he glared right at the Mavs bench and said, “That’s one.” A few possessions later, Westbrook splashed from deep again, and the Mavs called timeout. Westbrook glanced over at the bench with a you-know-what-I’m-about-to-say kind of look, and then yelled into the crowd, “I told you! I told you!” The Thunder’s game ops crew seemed to notice the footwear adjustment and played “Boogie Shoes” by K.C. and the Sunshine Band.
Earlier in the game, Salah Mejri rejected what would’ve been a posterific dunk from Westbrook and gave a little finger wag in the MVP’s direction. In the third quarter, Mejri was isolated on Westbrook on a switch, and Westbrook nailed another 3 to extend the Thunder’s lead to 16. He backpedaled to the other end but looked over at the Mavs bench as he got into his defensive crouch.
Playing against the 2-11 Mavs, the Thunder were supposed to be in control, but they were missing two starters, as Steven Adams sat a second straight game with a calf injury, and Carmelo Anthony was out with back soreness. It meant Westbrook and Paul George were rolling as a superduo, reminiscent of the way things used to be for Westbrook a few seasons ago when another certain superstar played alongside him. And much in the same manner of how so many of those Thunder wins would go, Westbrook was the spark to ignite the Thunder, and George was the gasoline to blow it wide open.
Following up a 42-point game on Friday, George poured in 37 on 12-of-22 shooting, including 7-of-12 from 3, with 29 coming in the second half. Asked what went through his mind when he found out Anthony was out, George didn’t hesitate.
“More shots,” he said, with a laugh. “Nah, I’m just playing.”
There was probably a little truth in the joke, as George looked comfortable, especially as he and Westbrook fed off each other to run away from the Mavs. George has talked about rhythm and how he’s trying to get adjusted to playing with someone the caliber of Westbrook, and after a loss in Denver a week ago in which he took only one fourth-quarter shot, the Thunder held a closed-door meeting in the locker room to talk some things out. A big part of the message came from Westbrook and Anthony: They wanted George to be the star he is.
“Just having a talk with Russ and Melo, just having a sit-down, and I just left everything on the table. ‘What do you guys need from me and what can I do better?'” George said. “And as you’ve seen over these past two games is where the direction of that convo went, and that was just to come out and be me, be special, on both ends, be aggressive and look to attack at every opportunity.”
On Sunday, even with Anthony sitting, it looked like it’s supposed to when stars as bright as George and Westbrook play together. It capped a nice Nov. 12 for Westbrook, a day the Thunder are now 4-1 on. So what did George get Westbrook for his birthday? As George always is on the court, his answer was velvet smooth.
“I got him 37.”