(Reuters) - Russell Westbrook’s refusal to bow down to league darling Stephen Curry helped Oklahoma City to stand tall and send a strong opening message in their Western Conference finals clash.
Curry has gathered a legion of fans as the NBA’s two-time MVP and most popular jersey seller, but Westbrook resisted becoming one of them in the lead up to Monday’s meeting.
“It’s not nothing I haven’t seen,” Westbrook told reporters of Curry’s offensive prowess. “Just (have to be) be physical.”
Westbrook proved good on his word as he snatched control of Game One to push the Thunder to a comeback 108-102 victory. Westbrook’s dominant third quarter, where he scored 19 of his 27 points, was a statement of his competitiveness that ultimately pulled Oklahoma City out of a 14-point deficit.
The five-time All Star seemed to relish every time he was guarded by Curry.
“My job is to stay in attack mode and constantly find ways to get my team mates going,” said Westbrook, who added 12 assists and seven steals.
“They have a lot of great players on their team but we have a great team as well.”
Curry was hardly a slouch on a night he recorded 26 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
In a season full of memorable moments for Curry, his most indelible one came in a February game against the Thunder when he fired off a 30-plus foot bomb that broke Oklahoma City hearts. It is a highlight that has been replayed for the past few months but Westbrook had declined to praise it later, saying “he made some tough shots”.
In the rematch, Westbrook reminded spectators that Golden State did not have the only point guard worthy of recognition.
“When a player of (Westbrook‘s) caliber isn’t shooting well sometimes it only takes one to go in,” said Curry, of Westbrook’s slow start and fast finish on Monday. “I have the same mentality. You know they’re not going to stop no matter how they’re playing.”
Editing by Sudipto Ganguly