The journey Russell Westbrook has been on in the last week, let alone the last two seasons, has been exhausting. A week ago, Westbrook was the focus of so much scrutiny after one of the more confounding endings to a dismal performance against the Blazers in the Lakers third loss of the season.
On Sunday, an energetic, happy Russ was soaking in the cheers and applause while returning the favor after being one of the central figures in the team’s first win of the season over Denver, 121-110. After having effectively lost the support of the fans entirely against Portland, back-to-back strong performances off the bench, including a team-high plus-minus of +18 on Sunday, has them back in his corner.
It’s quite the turnaround for Russ, who drew some raised eyebrows after his trial run off the bench during the preseason lasted five minutes before a hamstring injury. But Westbrook turned back many of the naysayers on Friday in Minnesota and completely shut them down on Sunday, adapting to his role off the bench to help provide the Lakers a much-needed boost.
“Like I mentioned before, we had many conversations about sacrificing and what that looks like for me,” Westbrook said of his talks with head coach Darvin Ham. “Like I’ve mentioned since day one, whatever’s needed from me to be able to help the team win, that’s what I’ll do and I’ll continue doing that as the season goes along.”
The concerns about Russ’ willingness to sacrifice were valid after a whole season last year of not doing so. But when faced with that opportunity this season, Russh as embraced his new role.
Perhaps it’s the new coach that is able to better connect with him. Perhaps it’s a new perspective Russ has with his NBA career facing more and more jeopardy has a starter.
Whatever the case may be, the Lakers benefitted from it on Sunday. Russ not only provided individual impact with 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, he provided a spark for the Lakers, particularly in the third quarter.
LA closed the period on a 13-0 run, turning an 85-80 deficit into a 93-85 lead heading into the final frame. Officially, Russ was only credited with a single assist in that run, but his presence was felt and it didn’t take away from any of the joy he had.
“I really enjoy seeing others do well,” Westbrook said. “It’s kind of something that I live for in life in general. Not just in basketball but in life. I would rather someone else do great because the joy that I get from seeing someone do well, it just lifts me up and keeps me going. Tonight, to see all those guys knock down shots, make plays, it was great.”
By the time Russ checked out in the fourth, the Lakers were up nine points. When he checked back in for the final 5:10, he was greeted with a roar from the fans. By game’s end, he and the fans were embracing the moment together.
Different vibe tonight between Russ and the Lakers crowd pic.twitter.com/duWdXWLs6g— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) October 31, 2022
It is just one game and Russ has a penchant for flashing things in one game and hardly doing them again. But even if Sunday is a flash in the pan for both team and player, it will serve as a moment full of potential and a, perhaps more importantly, a moment of fun, something that hasn’t existed for Russ and the Lakers much in the last two seasons.