“I don’t know,” Westbrook said, when asked what happened on the play.
It was clear, however, that he did.
“He hit me kind of hard, but it’s all right,” Westbrook continued. “I’m going to get his a– back. Straight up.”
Then came the kicker, when Westbrook was asked about if he’d noticed Pachulia standing over him after committing the foul.
“No,” he said. “I didn’t see that until just now, but I don’t play that game.
“I’m going to get his a– back. … I don’t know when it’s going to be, but I don’t play that game.”
Pachulia, for his part, said he was simply going for the ball, and thought it was a clean steal, though he also said he knew what he was doing when he stood over Westbrook.
“I was there, so whatever I did, it was me,” Pachulia said. “I’m in charge for my behavior.”
As for Westbrook’s comments? Well, Pachulia didn’t hesitate.
“Bring it on,” he said. “Bring it on.
“I’ll be there. I’ll be in OKC, too, so whenever he wants, my pleasure. My pleasure.”
And, with that, the next game between these teams on Feb. 11 in Oklahoma City — one that didn’t need another ounce of anticipation, given it will be the first time Durant returned to the city where he spent the first nine years of his NBA career — suddenly got another juicy story line thrown right on top of it.
None of that will concern Westbrook, though. After all, this is the man who filmed a shoe commercial this summer to the tune of a song titled, “Now I Do What I Want,” and whose signature phrase is, “Why Not?”
It’s that same motivation that has led Westbrook to terrorize the NBA in ways the sport hasn’t seen in over a half-century. Even in a loss Wednesday, Westbrook’s stat line — 27 points, 15 rebounds and 13 assists (and 10 turnovers) in 35 minutes — gave him a triple-double for the 21st time this season, which already is more than any player in a single season since Wilt Chamberlain had 31 in 1968 … and the Thunder still have 38 games remaining in the regular season.
That’s allowed Westbrook to average a triple-double for the season thus far — 30.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists — which is something no one has done since Oscar Robertson in 1962.
Still, Westbrook finds himself trailing James Harden — who is also putting up insane numbers and leading the Houston Rockets to a significantly better record — in the Most Valuable Player race.
Wednesday morning — while wearing sandals with “Why Not?” splattered all over them after Oklahoma City completed morning shootaround — he was asked about Harden’s play, and offered platitudes about his former teammate.
Then he was asked if Harden’s play inspired him to keep up his nonstop assault on the record books this season.
“Does it inspire me? No,” he said. “I’m inspired every time I wake up in the morning. I’m blessed to have the job I have and grateful for the things that I have, and that’s what inspires me.”
It’s taken every ounce of that single-minded will from Westbrook to keep Oklahoma City as competitive as its been this season in the wake of Durant’s departure. The team general manager Sam Presti had surrounded his two superstars with over the past few years had been built to compliment both of their talents.
With Durant out of the picture, it’s now Westbrook, a pair of young players with upside in Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo and a collection of limited role players. The result is Oklahoma City now is tied for sixth with the Memphis Grizzlies at 25-19 after Wednesday’s loss, and on pace to win 46 games — a perfectly fine record, but nowhere near the championship level the Thunder have been used to over the past half-decade when Westbrook and Durant teamed up to terrorize the league.
That included just this past spring, when they took a three games to one lead in the Western Conference finals against the Warriors before giving it back — which wound up setting the stage for Durant to change teams this summer and give this rivalry a whole new tenor.
The state of things in Oklahoma City also allowed Pachulia to get in another dig at Westbrook when he was asked if he was excited to be part of the atmosphere that’s to come on Feb. 11, when it will feel like the entire state of Oklahoma will be voicing their displeasure with Durant for leaving them behind.
“You know, what? Honestly, I don’t care about next month’s OKC game,” Pachulia said. “All I care about is the next game. It was our 42nd game, we have 40 more to go. So we can’t be waiting for next month’s game.
“Every game is so important, because we have a bigger goal than OKC does: to win the championship. They’re just trying to make the playoffs. Nothing wrong [with that] … I’ve been on that side, too. Nothing wrong with it. But there is amazing talent in this locker room, and as a part of this team. I’m going to worry about this team.”
It may have been coldly stated, but Pachulia is right: the Warriors and Thunder are on different trajectories. After dismantling the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers Monday and knocking off Durant’s team for a second straight time Wednesday, the Warriors will get on a plane Thursday and head to Houston for a showdown with Harden and his Rockets in a potential Western Conference finals preview.
For the Thunder, the goals are different. With the Los Angeles Clippers losing Chris Paul for the next two months with a thumb injury, the Thunder are in a fight among four teams — the Clippers, Grizzlies and Utah Jazz — for the 4-7 spots in the Western Conference playoff chase, with a shot at home court advantage on the line.
If Oklahoma City can fight its way into that 4-5 series in the first round, it would leave them one playoff series victory away from the thing this team’s season hinges on: a shot at Durant and these Warriors in the second round of the playoffs.
Of course the Thunder would be massive underdogs in said series, and the chances of winning would be somewhere between slim and none. But for Russell Westbrook, none of that would matter.
What would is that he’d be on the court. And if Westbrook is on the court, make no mistake: he never expects to lose, and he isn’t going to back down.
It’s an attitude that can be summed up in one way.