Russell Westbrook scored 14 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter last night to save the Thunder the ignominy of becoming the first team to lose to the Pistons this season. Down 11 points entering the final frame, Westbrook almost single-handedly brought the Thunder back, and once we’d blinked a couple times, the score was tied. Russ and his somewhat out-of-control play in the fourth led to a couple turnovers as well (and we didn’t see Kevin Durant touch the ball for a while either), but he also energized a lethargic-looking Thunder squad that was playing their fourth game in five nights.
Russ has struggled from the floor through eight games this season. He’s shooting just a tad over 40 percent, but his assists are up and his turnovers are about where they’ve been for most of his career. Even with James Harden‘s departure putting more pressure on him to produce offensively, he’s actually shooting less than he did last season.
He’s slogging through a long regular season with his eye towards the spring. Meanwhile, Skip Bayless is frothing at the mouth waiting for Russ to have a 5-for-24 shooting night with nine turnovers on national television, and most observers outside of Oklahoma City thought Russ was unraveling to begin the year.
Westbrook has had three semi-stinkers so far this season, including the opener against San Antonio where he looked awful, but we were looking for some stats to match the crotchety old man argument against him, and while he’s not shooting particularly well, the rest of his game is at its hyperkinetic best.
Also, more importantly for Thunder fans, after starting 1-2 this season, OKC has won five straight, and they’re at the top of the Northwest Division. Not bad after the Thunder’s poor start coincided with Harden’s Tiny Archibald impression in the first two games, and it felt like Thunder fans were at the gate to Sam Presti’s house with pitchforks and lanterns.
What sets Westbrook apart from just about everyone else in the league are his spontaneous reactions where he relies on primordial instinct rather than circumspect thought. There was one such bizarre move from last night: Russ found himself caught in the air with nowhere to go with the ball. Generally that’s a turnover, but Westbrook flipped it off Brandon Knight before taking it in for a layup. How are you supposed to get mad at a guy who makes that play? We’re pretty convinced Rajon Rondo has probably done the same move, but Russ did it most recently, and it almost seemed like he stumbled into the realization that it was okay to throw the ball off an opponent as a means of getting to the basket. Look for this again in an arena near you.
Russell Westbrook is still a bundle of excitement and energy, and those were two things Oklahoma City was missing last night in the semi-deserted Palace of Auburn Hills – which could have just as easily doubled as downtown Detroit. Westbrook will have us on alert for turnovers and rushed play, but so far there’s really nothing for Skip or any Westbrook detractors to freak out about, which probably means Skip will freak out soon.
How do you think Westbrook has played so far this season?
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