Russell Westbrook's return gives everybody a reason to smile. (Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images)
Well, this Darnell Mayberry report provided a pretty pleasant surprise on Sunday afternoon:
R. Westbrook has passed all medical/physical benchmarks in rehab. Russ, his reps, physicians & medical team agree. He will play tonight.
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) November 3, 2013
We'd been operating under the assumption that, even if he wasn't going to miss the full four to six weeks of regular-season play first reported, Russell Westbrook's return from arthroscopic surgery to repair a loose stitch at the site of the surgically repaired lateral meniscus in his right knee would take at least a couple of weeks. As it turned out, though, the All-Star point guard missed a grand total of four days of the NBA season and just two of his Oklahoma City Thunder's games before making his return at home against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
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As you might expect, the crowd at Chesapeake Energy Arena was pretty excited to welcome Westbrook back for the first time since tearing his meniscus during Game 2 of the Thunder's playoff matchup with the Houston Rockets back in April:
And, as you might expect, Westbrook was pretty excited to resume wreaking havoc on NBA defenses:
The 24-year-old triggerman looked a bit rusty, as you might expect, missing 11 of his 16 field-goal attempts. But his trademark aggressiveness appeared to be in midseason form, as he took 11 shots in the paint, got to the foul line 14 times in 33 minutes of work, and drew plenty of defensive attention as he probed and found teammates en route to seven assists against four turnovers in his debut. (Three of Serge Ibaka's four made field goals came directly off Westbrook passes, and Ibaka had a couple more good looks created by Westbrook's penetration that came up short; this could herald a change in fortune for the power forward, who has struggled to an 11-for-40 mark from the floor in his first three games.)
All told, Westbrook finished with 21 points, seven dimes, four rebounds and a steal in the Thunder's 103-96 win over the visiting and feisty Suns, and an Oklahoma City team that had looked very shaky offensively in a Friday night loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves seemed much more potent with its All-NBA lead guard on the court. The numerical boost of Westbrook's return matched the impact you saw with your naked eye — after being outscored by an average of 5.7 points per 100 possessions over their first two games, the Thunder outpaced the Suns by an average of 6.8 points-per-100 in Westbrook's minutes on Sunday, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
Westbrook freely admitted after the win that his game isn't all the way back where he wants it to be, but his ability to attack and showcase his customary explosion over the course of 33 minutes is a much bigger story than an out-of-sorts jumper, as Mayberry wrote in the Oklahoman:
“I just missed some easy ones, but that will come,” Westbrook said. “But I'm able to do what I want.”
The easy ones included shots and reads, plays that Westbrook routinely makes when in rhythm. Right now, Westbrook admitted he's rusty.
“That's expected,” Westbrook said. “But I'm going to continue to stay in attack mode and continue to try to win.”
That's bad news for upcoming Thunder opponents, including Wednesday night foil the Dallas Mavericks, but great news for those of us who love watching one of the NBA's most explosive and compelling characters careen around the court, and who thought it'd be at least a few more weeks until we got the privilege of doing so again.
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