With Kobe Bryant trying to single-handedly ensure that the Los Angeles Lakers weren't eliminated from the 2012 NBA playoffs, Oklahoma City needed someone wearing a white jersey to do something, anything, to take charge and grab the momentum once and for all.
Enter Russell Westbrook.
With the game tied at 70 after several lead changes throughout the first two and a half quarters of Game 5 against the Lakers, the All-Star point guard gave OKC the necessary spark that would change the momentum of the game and ultimately end the Lakers' season. And he did it with style.. and a little luck.
Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions had the ball at the top of the key as Bryant jostled to get open on the right side, using a screen by Andrew Bynum. Sessions tried to force the ball in to Bryant, but Westbrook jumped into the passing lane. The 23-year-old stole the ball, starting a one-on-one fast break. Sessions tried fouling him well away from the basket, but the athletic Westbrook was able to throw up a prayer on the run while getting held. The ball banked off the backboard and fell through the net, causing Chesapeake Energy Arena to erupt (along with Westbrook).
Westbrook made the free throw to give the Thunder a three-point lead. OKC went up by six at the end of the third quarter and pulled away from Los Angeles in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder started the final 12 minutes of Game 5 with 10 straight points to take a 93-77 lead. OKC never looked back. Westbrook's three-point play proved to be the turning point in a game that had been nip and tuck until then, starting what would be a 23-7 run to end Los Angeles' season.
After facing plenty of criticism for taking too many questionable shots and for being involved in a rumored rift with Kevin Durant in 2011, Westbrook has raised his game to new levels in the 2012 postseason. He is averaging 24.1 points per game in the playoffs while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. In the second round, he only turned the ball over four times in five games.
Even if Westbrook may never quite fit the sidekick role that some would like him to play alongside Kevin Durant, it seems like the Thunder's double-barreled Batman approach is working just fine for now.