Yes, he is a bit of a punk.
But he’s a superstar punk.
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook may not pass Mark Cuban’s 50-win test. But as he showed Monday night in slamming the coffin lid on Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks, Westbrook passes the points test, the defiance test and the eyeball test for being a true NBA superstar.
The Mavericks pushed the home team’s patience well into the fourth quarter Monday, but the Thunder rode Westbrook’s angry energy down the stretch and captured the series with a 118-104 victory.
Compelled by something — the Dallas owner’s pregame remarks? The network spotlight? — Westbrook erupted for 36 points, led everyone with 12 rebounds and even relinquished his grip on the basketball often enough to record nine assists.
Kevin Durant, who wears the unquestioned superstar cape in this NBA town, chipped in with 33 points and seven rebounds. Ho-hum.
But it was Westbrook’s night. His pace. His script. His final answer to Cuban’s pregame diss.
Speaking casually to reporters before the game, Cuban offered the opinion that the Thunder was “lucky to have” Durant, the team’s “one superstar.”
Whoa. Like Westbrook isn’t a superstar, someone asked?
“I think he’s an All-Star but not a superstar,” Cuban answered.
Cuban explained that he was comparing Westbrook’s influence on his team to Dirk Nowitzki’s.
“Dirk for 15 years won 50 games, no matter what,” Cuban said. “We put Moe, Larry and Curly next to him and won 50 games.
“To me,” Cuban added, “that’s the definition of a superstar.”
A year ago, with Durant injured and able to play in only 27 games, Oklahoma City won 45 games and failed to make the playoffs.
But nobody was quibbling over opinions and definitions late Monday night.
As became customary in the best-of-seven series, the Thunder started aggressively and barely six minutes into the game had another 10-point lead. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle called it the Thunder’s nightly “haymaker.”
The margin was up to 13 early in the second quarter, when Carlisle began cashing in from his bench. The Mavericks made four 3-point tries in the quarter and outrebounded OKC 11-8.
Most tellingly, center Zaza Pachulia kept grabbing rebounds and dishing out assists — seven of the latter over the full 12 minutes.
When Raymond Felton hit an 18-foot jumper for the Mavericks with 2:33 before halftime, the OKC lead was trimmed to a scant two points.
The crowd was hushed. You could almost hear the ground fracking under Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Throughout the second half, the Mavericks would muster mini-scoring runs and narrow the deficit, but Westbrook, Durant and the Thunder would eventually answer and push their lead back up to 10.
With four minutes left, it was still a four-point game.
It spoke volumes about the losing Mavericks’ effort that in the final minute, Westbrook and Durant were still on the floor for the Thunder.
Nowitzki finished with 24 points, as six Mavericks scored in double figures.
But pride can’t overcome a thin roster, as Carlisle and Cuban should well know.
Especially against a team with not one, but two NBA superstars.