LOS ANGELES – After soaring through the air, Russell Westbrook extended his right arm toward the basket. Once he finished the forceful dunk, Westbrook screamed.
After experiencing numerous frustrations with persistent losing, inconsistent play and adjusting to a new role, Westbrook offered a moment that both electrified the Lakers crowd and contributed to winning basketball. In the Lakers’ 101-95 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, Westbrook delivered a vicious one-handed dunk in the second quarter over Jazz center Rudy Gobert.
“It happened to be Gobert tonight,” Westbrook said. “But it could be anybody on any other night.”
Westbrook maintained that the play did not offer any extra meaning. But his actions suggested otherwise. After LeBron James set a screen at the top of the key, Westbrook charged toward the basket. He nudged Gobert with his left hand. Then after finishing the play, Westbrook talked trash to Gobert.
Westbrook picked up a technical foul for the gesture, but the Lakers did not seem to mind. James described the dunk as “explosive,” “electrifying,” “big time” and “phenomenal” before admitting that he has watched the replay “over and over.” Lakers coach Frank Vogel added “it was a hell of a play.”
After all, Gobert has won three Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards.
“You have to go smart or you have to go strong against Rudy,” Vogel said. “If you take anything weak up to the basket, he’s going to swat it away.”
Gobert tried to swat the ball away, but to no avail. In his 14th NBA season, the 33-year-old Westbrook showed he still has his athleticism.
“People don’t just want me going down the paint and seeing if I still have my legs,” Westbrook said. “But I know what I’m capable of and know what I’m capable of doing on the floor. When the moment presented itself with being able to finish strong at the basket, it’s still something I can do.”
Westbrook had 15 points on an inefficient 5-of-14 shooting. But with the Lakers (22-22) laboring through a three-game losing streak partly because of Westbrook’s offensive inefficiency and defensive shortcomings, Westbrook played with the kind of energy that the Lakers needed against Utah. He added eight rebounds and three assists, while James, Avery Bradley, and Austin Reaves all offered hustle.
That included Westbrook mopping up the floor in the first quarter after a courtside fan spilled a drink, which caused Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell to slip on a wet spot. Following the mop-up duties, Westbrook then banked in a jumper.
“I feel like I can do everything,” Westbrook said. “If it’s time to clean up the floor, I don’t see why not. So that’s what I thought at the time to make sure I can keep doing it. It didn’t seem like nobody else was doing it. So I was like I can do it.”
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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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