Basketball / NBA

Russell Westbrook scores 34 in return, but Thunder roll past Rockets

AP

The Oklahoma City Thunder spoiled Russell Westbrook’s return.

Westbrook scored 34 points, but the Thunder beat the Houston Rockets 113-92 on Thursday night.

Westbrook was a league MVP and two-time scoring champ for the Thunder before being traded to the Rockets last summer for Chris Paul and draft picks.

The fans remember him as the star who stayed after Kevin Durant left for then-rival Golden State in 2016, and they showered him with appreciation before the game.

There was a tribute video, then loud cheers as he was introduced with enthusiasm, in the same manner as a home Thunder player.

The crowd stood, cheered loudly and even chanted M-V-P as the announcer moved on to other players. Westbrook even ran over to a corner of the court and exhorted the crowd before the tip, just like he did when he played for the Thunder.

“Some things you can’t put into words,” Westbrook said. “I’ve been here for so long and so many great memories, great people. The absolute best fans in the world because they come with it, and tonight they came with it.”

The atmosphere also lifted the Thunder.

“The energy was amazing,” Paul said. “Our first nationally televised game and Russ being back so we knew that the crowd — I mean the crowd is always great, but we knew it was going to be a different energy tonight with Russ’ first game back here and I mean, you’ve got to get excited during the player intros. Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) and I were just sitting over there talking about, you know, ‘All right, let’s get to it.’ “

It was a strange day for Westbrook. He said he had never even seen the visiting locker room during his 11-year run in Oklahoma City. It was a bit odd for him early in the game when the crowd that he so often riled to a fever pitch was cheering for the other team during a run that put the Rockets on their heels.

“Definitely different, but once you start hooping and competing, you kind of zone it out a little bit,” he said.

Westbrook scored 18 points in the first half, but the Thunder led 60-48 at the break after shooting 53.8 percent from the field. The hosts extended their lead throughout the second half. Westbrook was subbed out with 7:18 remaining.

Danilo Gallinari led Oklahoma City with 23 points and 11 rebounds and Gilgeous-Alexander added 20 points.

Houston’s James Harden, who entered the night averaging a league-best 38.5 points, was held to 17 on 5-for-17 shooting.

After the game, Westbrook embraced several Thunder players, then went over and hugged Oklahoma City owner Clay Bennett. He acknowledged the crowd one last time before he exiting on the opposite end of the floor from his days as a Thunder player.

Westbrook was the last remaining player from the team that began playing in Oklahoma City in 2008 after the franchise left Seattle.

“I don’t regret one thing being here in Oklahoma City,” he said. “I don’t regret signing back, I don’t regret staying here. I don’t regret anything that I did here. I feel like I left everything out on the floor every single night and did what I could for the city.”

76ers 109, Celtics 98

In Philadelphia, Josh Richardson scored 29 points, Ben Simmons had 19 and the 76ers won without injured center Joel Embiid, beating Boston.

Embiid will have surgery Friday for a torn ligament in a finger in his left hand and will be evaluated in one to two weeks. Embiid, averaging 23.4 points and 12.3 rebounds in 31 games this season, tore the radial collateral ligament in the ring finger Monday night in a victory over Oklahoma City.

Cavaliers 115, Pistons 112 (OT)

In Detroit, Kevin Love made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 37.9 seconds left in overtime and Cleveland snapped a five-game losing streak.

Tristan Thompson had 35 points and 14 rebounds for the Cavaliers.

Andre Drummond had 28 points and 23 rebounds for the Pistons.

T-Wolves 116, Trail Blazers 102

In Minneapolis, Andrew Wiggins scored 23 points, Gorgui Dieng had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Minnesota beat Portland.

Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 20 points and eight of the team’s 13 assists. CJ McCollum and Hassan Whiteside each added 15 points.

The Timberwolves were without star big man Karl-Anthony Towns for the 12th straight game with a left knee sprain.