Thursday night in the NBA was billed as Russell Westbrook's return to Oklahoma City. Chris Paul wound up stealing his Thunder. Get it? Sorry, let's just get to what happened.
Westbrook, who played 11 seasons in OKC before being traded for Paul this past summer, got a warm ovation and played a good game. But it was Paul's upstart squad that ran one of the NBA favorites out of the building. On national TV, no less. And those who were still watching in the fourth quarter saw one of the most electric sequences of the season.
It started with Paul bringing the ball up after gathering a rebound and Westbrook and Isaiah Hartenstein trying to trap him on the left wing. But Paul bounced the ball through the center's legs, slithered around him to gather it back, and then hit a floater over former teammate and friend P.J. Tucker.
With the Chesapeake Energy Arena about to explode and the Thunder taking a 101-75 lead, Paul motioned to stop the fight, even mouthing the word "stop." And that's essentially what the future Hall-of-Famer did seconds later when he intentionally gave a soft foul on Westbrook to stop play and take himself out of the game. Check it out:
Poor Hartenstein. That makes getting dunked on look almost cool.
CP3's good buddy LeBron James was watching (of course) and impressed:
Again, poor Hartenstein.
After coming up short to the Golden State Warriors—you know, before their entire team got injured or left, or both—in tightly contested playoff series the past two years (no shame in that), the Rockets dealt Paul for the younger Westbrook, basically banishing the 35-year-old point guard to what was supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league. But Paul has led a young and talented bunch to wins in 11 of their past 13 games and they look like a lock for a playoff spot as we near the first half of the regular season.
Paul, who leads the NBA in clutch scoring this year, may have stopped the fight on Thursday night, but he certainly hasn't thrown in the towel on trying to win a championship. It's just too bad basketball fans won't get to see his exciting new squad much more until the postseason. And that we've got to sit through a lot more nationally televised Golden State games in the meantime.