On a night when Westbrook labored with his shot and went 3-for-19 from the field, he made up for all the misfires by doing a little bit of everything in a tightly contested fourth quarter against the Suns and delivering the full Russell Westbrook experience in Phoenix.
Game 1 of the highly anticipated Clippers-Suns first round series lived up to the expectations, as L.A. swiped homecourt advantage with a 115-110 win in Phoenix behind a stunning 38-point performance from Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard dueled with Kevin Durant (27 points) and Devin Booker (26 points), but after the game the talk was about Russell Westbrook’s incredible final minute of play. Game 1 was the full Russell Westbrook Experience, as he started the night hounding Kevin Durant on defense, pestering his former teammate and rival into an uncustomary slow start, missing his first five shots. While doing that, Westbrook was also getting off to his own dreadful shooting night, as he would finish the game 3-of-19 shooting, taking more shots in the game than anyone other than Kawhi Leonard (13-of-24) despite having nothing going with his jumper or at the rim.
In the third quarter, as the Suns took control of the game, pushing their way to a nine-point lead, Westbrook’s defensive intensity waned, his poor shooting continued, and the groans from Clippers fans grew louder and louder on Twitter with every passing moment. When he went out of the game, L.A. made its run to tie the game up going into the fourth, leading to plenty to hope he would remain in his seat on the bench for good.
But Tyronn Lue reinserted Westbrook early in the fourth, and left him in for the remainder of the game, where he was rewarded for his faith in the former MVP with one of the most impactful overall final minutes you’ll see. While it was Kawhi Leonard’s unbelievable shooting (and a couple timely threes from others) that pushed the Clippers into the lead, it was Westbrook who helped seal the deal by providing what is likely his best sequence of the season (and maybe the past few years).
It started with securing a key offensive rebound and then fighting for another (as he had five of his 10 boards in the final frame), causing the ball to go out of bounds off of Deandre Ayton to retain possession for a second time in what became a 50-second long possession for the Clippers.
This sequence. They're trying (Jennifer). pic.twitter.com/PG173PDnz7
— Mirjam Swanson (@MirjamSwanson) April 17, 2023
4TH QUARTER HUSTLE ?
Russ was grabbing clutch boards all Q4 of the Clippers Game 1 win. pic.twitter.com/P0tfeZDO72
— NBA (@NBA) April 17, 2023
After Durant denied Leonard the ball on the Clippers’ fourth attempt at a possession, Westbrook drove the ball into the lane and drew a foul on Booker, setting up a pair of clutch free throws that he drilled.
Russ hits two CLUTCH free throws ?
Suns ball. 0:17 remains on TNT ? pic.twitter.com/7FGfSsMNEv
— NBA (@NBA) April 17, 2023
On the ensuing possession for the Suns, Westbrook pulled off one of the best individual defensive plays you will ever see, staying on Booker’s hip on a drive, blocking him, and then somehow managing to double jump and throw the ball off of Booker to give L.A. possession.
WHAT A PLAY FROM RUSS ? pic.twitter.com/PbCjyPcwEq
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 17, 2023
That play, effectively, won them the game, as L.A. would get the ball in and Eric Gordon would hit a pair of free throws to push the advantage out to five with seven seconds to go in the game.
Sunday’s game showed the entire spectrum of Russ at this point in his career.
Who knows how those scales will tilt going forward in this series, but for at least a night they were in favor of Russ and the Clippers.