Russell Westbrook looks like a man on a mission with the Clippers

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Watching Russell Westbrook, right now, is like watching a highlight package unfold in front of you in real time.

There’s something for everyone and let’s face it, not all of them are good highlights. But the veteran Los Angeles Clippers point guard is in on everything during his new team’s matchup with the Phoenix Suns and is making it one of the most captivating matchups of the first round of the postseason.

Take this small snapshot of a couple of minutes from Tuesday night’s Game 2, in which the Clippers hung on until close in the waning stages before succumbing to a 123-109 loss that evened the series at 1-1

Westbrook drove explosively down the lane, but missed a dunk when the ball slipped through his fingers. He sniffed and shrugged as the Phoenix crowd taunted him by chanting “Westbrick”, the nickname he detested. He grabbed an impossible offensive rebound and then turned it into a bucket before it hit the floor while spinning acrobatically. He misread a defensive assignment badly enough that Devin Booker was instantly open.

And he collected 28 points in a performance that indicated his pitching stroke, when in the groove, remains capable of consistent, high-end performance.

If you thought Westbrook’s career would go quietly into the night when his ill-fated stint with the Los Angeles Lakers essentially ended with a walk down the aisle at Arena to the Clippers’ locker room, that’s okay.

Devin Booker’s 38 points lead Suns to Game 2 win over Clippers

Devin Booker's 38 points lead Suns to Game 2 win over Clippers

Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe discuss the main reason Phoenix tied the series 1-1.

You wouldn’t have been alone in that mindset, but here we are in the playoffs and the 34-year-old looks hungrier than ever and plays with the enthusiasm of a teenager. The Clippers, minus the injured Paul George, are trying to pull off what would be a major upset for Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, Booker and company.

Kawhi Leonard’s quiet brilliance keeps LA in games, but it’s Westbrook who brings the energy, the kind of brash spirit that a team with an overabundance of shooting muscle simply must have if they want this to be interesting.

In Game 1 on Sunday, Westbrook stunk for most of the night, shooting 3-for-19, but then simply stepped up and clinched the game in the final minute, driving to win a trip to the line, draining two free throws. , then made a remarkable defensive play that involved a mid-air block on Booker, then quick thinking enough to throw it off Booker’s body to make it a ball and game for the Clippers.

Russell Westbrook secures victory for the Clippers in the first game against the Suns

Russell Westbrook secures victory for the Clippers in the first game against the Suns

Colin Cowherd reacts to Russ’ game, explaining why two things may be true: his offensive responsibilities but running a game with his hustle and grit.

Westbrook seems to be on a mission to prove how he wants it, after pit stops with Houston, Washington and the Lakers who lavished him with contract money but didn’t come away with anything resembling success.

He may have found his happy, or happier, place on a Clippers team that continues to punch above its weight and will return home looking to show why the widespread assumption that Phoenix would pass them by may have a twist

“We know it’s going to be a tough series,” Westbrook told reporters Tuesday. “I thought we gave ourselves a chance. We came out with the right mindset.”

His approach is to just throw himself into the fray. Westbrook has spoken frequently about the lack of pressure he feels, and there’s a layered background to it. He believes he wasn’t treated fairly by the Lakers, that they were too often blamed when things went wrong and that the situation created a level of tension that would make any player think twice before attempting to a great move Here, now, just go get it.

Admittedly, he was made a scapegoat with the Lakers, and soon became emblematic of everything that was wrong with the purple and gold. He was seen as the catalyst for the team’s chemistry problems. It looked like things were only going one way, and that his days of being a positive contributor to a playoff team were gone.

But then George vouched for him, Westbrook agreed to a buyout with the Utah Jazz after being offloaded there by the Lakers, and Clippers head coach Ty Lue has come up with effective ways to use him.

Part of that is an explicit command to bring the ferocity, to play without fear and without reservations, mistakes and all.

As a result, Westbrook’s teammates hear the criticism he continues to receive, but don’t necessarily agree with it. He averaged 15.9 points for the Clippers after the move, shooting nearly 49 percent overall and 35.6 percent from 3-point territory. We’re not pretending his slashing drives and overall shooting are what they were in his prime, but there’s more to it than that.

“[Critics] only seeing Russ for the shots he misses,” George told Bleacher Report. “They don’t see him for the rebounding, the defense. They only look at whether he makes or misses shots and judge him for that.”

There’s a bigger philosophical discussion, about what Westbrook can and can’t do and what his time in the NBA looks like from here. Everything will be worked out, but for now it’s worth enjoying it as it is.

For Westbrook haters, and there are a lot of them, his way of attacking means there will be enough misses to keep you happy. But he’s also having a helping effect on the Clippers, and they wouldn’t be the same without him.

His history, especially lately, has been complicated. But it’s entertaining at the moment, full of incident, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of deal, from a player who’s grown used to the criticism but refuses to believe it.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX i subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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