Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook gestures after hitting a...

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook gestures after hitting a 3-point shot to end the first quarter of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Oklahoma City. (Dec. 7, 2012) Credit: AP

Russell Westbrook hasn't quite gotten the message that he is a superstar. Unlike the rest of his NBA brethren, he still talks to reporters in the locker room before big games, and he still earnestly rattles off cliches about needing to improve.

Make no mistake: Westbrook is a big-time player, one whom the Knicks were challenged to find an answer for in Thursday night's 95-94 loss to the Thunder.

Even though the Knicks were without the league's No. 2 scorer, Carmelo Anthony -- who is nursing a sore right knee -- they figured to have enough big bodies to do a respectable job containing Kevin Durant, the league's No. 1 scorer.

Dealing with Westbrook, however, presented a bigger challenge on paper, as the aged Jason Kidd, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith didn't present much of a defensive threat.

And after the first quarter, in which Westbrook scored 15 points, it looked as if he were going to dominate the Knicks.

Yet after leaving the court in the second quarter to attend to a twisted ankle, Westbrook struggled. In the third quarter, as the Knicks went on a 25-16 run, Westbrook scored just three points and shot 1-for-6. He also turned the ball over three times in the quarter as the Knicks grabbed an 81-77 lead.

It was really the first time since the All-Star break that Westbrook looked rattled. But despite shooting only 8-for-22, he had 21 points, 13 fewer than Durant. Westbrook added six rebounds, five assists and two steals.

Although Durant is without a doubt the better of the two Oklahoma City stars, Westbrook entered this game on an incredible run. Since the All-Star break, he was averaging 31.6 points and shooting 52 percent. Add to that 6.1 rebounds and 6.1 assists a game.

"Both Kevin and Russell are leading this team to places that they want to get to," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game. "Take away the first month of the season, when he didn't shoot the ball well, but other than that, he's been on a nice little shooting streak in the last 15 to 20 games. His leadership and his ability to control and manage the game is improving every game."

Westbrook wasn't at the top of his game on a night when he was looking forward to performing well on one of the league's brightest stages.

When asked if he thought Oklahoma City had caught a break with Anthony out, Westbrook said, "No. They're a good team at home and they feed off their crowd. They have good energy. I look at this as an important game. Every game is an important game, regardless of who you are playing. That's the attitude I have to take."

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