Russell Westbrook returned to the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup Sunday night, shattering the initial timetable given after he had to undergo an unexpected second surgery on his knee to repair a torn meniscus.
Westbrook was understandably a bit rusty in his return, but his presence in the lineup alone was huge, and he helped lead the Thunder to a 103-96 victory over the Phoenix Suns. Westbrook finished the game with 21 points and seven assists, shooting 5 of 16 overall and 11 of 14 from the free-throw line.
Right off the bat, Westbrook made it a point to show that he was healthy, splitting a pick-and-roll and exploding to the rim on the drive. Westbrook didn't finish the bucket, but he drew the foul and split the free throws. Later in the game, he did this:
Westbrook was key in the Thunder's 36-point fourth quarter, although it wasn't all because of his scoring. Westbrook, who often gets criticized for not passing enough, tallied three assists in the final frame to help Oklahoma City build up a lead. He also knocked down four free throws to salt the game away.
It wasn't all positive, of course. The 5 of 16 shooting isn't good, and Westbrook only made one shot outside of the restricted area. He had three early turnovers, although he did settle down and only finished with four for the game.
Westbrook's conditioning also isn't all the way up to snuff, which may explain why he played a shade under 33 minutes despite not having a minutes limits. But the eccentric guard knew he wouldn't be back at full strength right away:
Westbrook on his conditioning: "It could be better. It was alright. But that's expected. I didn't expect to come back and be bionic."— Royce Young (@royceyoung) November 4, 2013
It will likely take Westbrook a bit more time to regain his rhythm and get all the way back to his former self. However, his early return should be a boon for Oklahoma City, and it could change how things play out in the Western Conference. The Thunder looked a bit out of sorts the first two games of the year, but now with Westbrook back in the fold, it's all systems go.