Russell Westbrook is making a great case to be included in the "most hated Nuggets' opponents of all-time" conversation alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant and Manu Ginobili. Those of us who have followed this Nuggets/Thunder series since its inception several seasons ago have known what a punk Westbrook is the entire time. But in tonight's 121-118 Nuggets overtime victory, Westbrook took his "punkassness" to another level.
And frankly, it was fun as hell to be a part of.
It all started midway through the fourth quarter when Nuggets supermascot Rocky performed his over-the-head-half-court-shot". Rocky just didn't have it in him tonight, laying brick after brick from half court. And then, on his final attempt - that actually looked good - the sprightly Westbrook leaped up and grabbed the ball before it had a chance of connecting. Rocky, and the entire Pepsi Center contingency, were incensed. And what came next was a cascade of boos that I haven't experienced in Denver since Bryant first had to play in the wake of his Eagle County rape charge.
But Westbrook couldn't let it go. Soon after taking away Rocky's shot at glory, Westbrook got into a barking match with the $500-a-seat-courtside fans and could be heard from five rows up (where I was sitting) yelling: "Fuck you do something!!" The trash talk continued from there as the Oklahoma City guard bantered about with many courtside fans throughout the remainder of the game.
And as if that wasn't enough, when Rocky again attempted his half-courter with less than a minute left, Westbrook again plucked the ball from the air before it got to the rim. The boos got even louder and Westbrook responded with a big-time three-pointer that tied the game at 109 apiece with 22 seconds left. Westbrook clearly fed off the crowd's displeasure with him.
But Westbrook's clutch play - along with his team's spirited comeback from an 11-point deficit with three minutes left in regulation - would come to an end in overtime thanks to an assortment of bad offensive fouls, rushed shots and stingy Nuggets defense. Left to waste would be Westbrook's 36 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists (and 7 turnovers) effort combined with Kevin Durant's 37 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals (and 5 turnovers). We almost witnessed two triple-doubles by teammates in the same game, something that happens about as often as Haley's Comet's arrival.
Even though the Nuggets gave away yet another fourth quarter lead (I'm starting to think that the Nuggets need to be up by 20 with three minutes left to secure a victory these days), their bench came to the rescue with 57 points - including 26 from Corey "OH MY GOD PLEASE DON'T SHOOT THAT ... YES!!!! HE MADE IT!!!!!!" Brewer and another great effort from the recovering Wilson Chandler. And the Nuggets rebounding was exceptional, with 50 total and 20 offensive compared to just 39 and 11 from Oklahoma City.
Perhaps it should be encouraging that the Nuggets pulled off a victory against the NBA's presumably best team, with their opponent's stars playing at full throttle, despite sub-par outings from the Nuggets' starting backcourt of Ty Lawson (7 turnovers, 4-13 shooting) and Andre Iguodala (9 points in just 26 minutes of play).
The referees did everything they could to help the Thunder out - sending them to the free throw line for an astonishing 48 attempts - but even with help from the zebras and an offensive onslaught from Durant and Westbrook, it just wasn't meant to be Oklahoma City's night.
The Nuggets gut out another victory. And in doing so, made up slightly for Friday night's embarrassment against the lowly Wizards.
Non-Stiff(s) of the Game
-Kenneth Faried and Corey Brewer: Faried was in full "Manimal" mode in this one, collecting 10 tough rebounds to go along with 16 points and 4 highlight-caliber blocks. Faried's energy was infectious and teammates like Kosta Koufos seemed to feed off of the power forward's relentless energy. Brewer, meanwhile, may have had his best game as a pro connecting on 3 of his 6 three-point attempts and wreaking havoc on both ends of the floor. And yet somehow Brewer ended up with a +/- of -7. Huh??
Stiff of the Game
-Russell Westbrook: Lesson learned by Westbrook tonight - don't fuck with Rocky. Not since Charles Barkley played on the Pepsi Center floor have I seen a player so blatantly mess with Rocky, which in and of itself is not a big deal (and actually made the game fun). But where Westbrook crossed a line was hurling obscenities at ticket-paying fans and I suspect he'll get fined for that.
Um ... who and what are these Denver Nuggets? On Wednesday they get bamboozled in Oklahoma City without putting up a fight. They follow that up two days later with a home loss to the NBA's worst team. And they wrap up the weekend by beating the Thunder in an overtime thriller ... after giving away an 11-point lead no less.
It appears we have a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde squad on our hands. A team from which we never know what we're going to get.