Even after scoring 43 points and being the sole reason Oklahoma City even had a shot to win Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Russell Westbrook won’t be hearing praise today. The guard who isn’t as mercurial as anyone thinks is still just as dangerous as we all expected. He showed that last night that should Kevin Durant and James Harden play passively, even in oddly long stretches, he can keep a team in it. But he won’t hear the praise he should because of the egregious mistake that ultimately kept the Thunder out of it.
After the Heat recovered possession on a jump ball, Westbrook fouled Mario Chalmers with 13.8 seconds left, and 4 seconds left on the shot clock, down just three. There was no reason to foul and the Thunder could have played for a last shot after a stop. Bad, absolutely. But there also isn’t reason to bury Westbrook — he was the only reason they had a chance to win even if he took 32 shots.
While Durant had 28 points on 19 shots, Harden going ghost busted OKC’s chances. He had 8 points on 2-of-10 shooting. His absence is felt most on the pick and rolls where he was so lethal in the playoffs, drawing praise from Greg Anthony in a pre-Finals interview where he said Harden was the most-dangerous PNR player on the court and in transition. Westbrook is doubly difficult to guard because his slashing is offset by an effective pull-up jumper from 15-20 feet (and don’t believe the “shooting more” fallacy: ESPN found the Thunder score three fewer points per 100 possessions in games Durant shoots more). Harden, meanwhile, shot 39 percent from three this year but his game is built around going to the hoop. Harden has scored in single-digits three times in the last four games. That’s not good for someone averaging 16.8 points per game in the regular season. In fact, it’s the first time all year he’s struggled like this: He didn’t score in single digits in consecutive games all season.
All of which means, Westbrook was alone on Tuesday night. He scored 13 straight points in one second-half stretch, a feat that would qualify as saint-like for a team in OKC’s position for most any other player. He’s still learning, and isn’t perfect, but what I liked most was his honest after the game. Via Ben Golliver of Blazers Edge:
“Let me get this straight. What you guys say doesn’t make me happy, make me sad. It doesn’t do anything. It’s all about my team and us winning the game. I don’t have a personal challenge against you guys. It’s not me against the world. It’s not the world against me. It’s me and my teammates trying to win.”
It’s not exactly echoing Tupac’s “Me Against The World” refrain, but it does mirror a self-confidence that can be a double-edged sword. Sometimes it works in Westbrook’s favor, other times not. Don’t let one foul get in the way of seeing how Westbrook can, almost singlehandedly, still get this series back to Oklahoma City.
What do you think?
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