OKLAHOMA CITY — For two days Russell Westbrook has had to hear about his Game 2 performance. The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves returning home down 0-2 to the Portland Trailblazers and it is all Westbrook’s fault.
That is certainly what it seems like.
There is a level of blame that should fall at Westbrook’s feet. As the emotional and at times outright-physical leader of the Thunder, it comes with the territory. Especially with how Game 2 got away from the Thunder so quickly.
“There was one point in the game where I thought we had control and then bang,” Steven Adams said today at practice. “Just a couple sh*tty plays, and it went out from there, you know?”
A couple of sh*tty plays indeed. After the Thunder controlled the first quarter with physical defense and what seemed like a sustainable rhythm on offense, the second quarter brought the symptoms of Oklahoma City’s doom. Those symptoms were heightened by Westbrook’s play in the eyes of many.
“How I played tonight was unacceptable,” Westbrook said following the game on Tuesday. “I take full responsibility for tonight’s loss. I’ve got to play better.”
That is a commendable attitude to have. Even more so when you realize… Westbrook was not terrible in Game 2. Nor should he feel the need to assume cliched mantras such as being more aggressive. Westbrook has been OKC’s best player in these two games and if the Thunder are going to even this series, it has to be with Westbrook continuing this level of play.
I know what you’re thinking. Those “sh*tty” plays were a direct result of Westbrook and that is why Portland was able to regain momentum and control of the game.
That argument could be made. But Westbrook never let bad Westbrook show his face. You know, the guy who sees Damian Lillard launch and make a thirty-footer against him — receive the inbounds pass, race down the floor and think, “I’ll show this scrub,” and launch a similar shot only for it to clang off of the rim?
Finger nails on a chalk board for any Thunder fan.
That hasn’t been the case of course. Westbrook’s second quarter — while the complaining and not hustling back on defense three times were all equally unforgivable — did not fully doom OKC. Even with the Blazers’ 37-point third quarter, the Thunder had their chances.
The Thunder were only down six with a little over a minute to go in the third quarter. The third quarter, along with porous perimeter defense from Oklahoma City as a whole, saw four missed three-pointers set up by Westbrook — two from Terrance Ferguson, one from Jerami Grant and the other from Paul George.
Each shot was open and the shot OKC wanted. Each miss, another example in the growing theme of the Thunder’s disappointing postseason where they have shot 10-61 from deep.
Did you know Westbrook is leading the postseason potential assists? He has 25 while his closest competitor — James Harden — has 16. Of those 25 potential assists, 17 have been potential made-threes. Here is some disappointing math for you:
If OKC hits their average from three (34 percent) on those 17 three-point attempts, they would have five or six more made threes in the series — 15-18 more points. It can be argued that if those five or six potential made threes went down, the Thunder would be at least tied 1-1 in the series.
Why am I telling you this? Because Westbrook’s quote claiming he has to be better scares me for the Thunder’s future. A future that could potentially bring out bad Westbrook.
How quickly are we forgetting his proclamation in last year’s postseason in regards to Ricky Rubio and what it led to in Game 4?
Westbrook does not need to be more aggressive. He does not need to hunt for his own shot, more whistles (he’s done that enough in two games) or, God forbid, take more threes. He needs to stay the course and play distributor and simply hope guys like Grant, Ferguson and George start hitting their wide open looks he creates for them.
As mentioned previously, Westbrook is not without fault for the Thunder’s current situation. In that third quarter, Westbrook committed three turnovers, missed some shots and let Dame make another thirty-footer in his face with no semblance of defending it. But his good has outweighed his bad, no matter how video-clip worthy they’ve become over the last 48 hours.
It comes down to Grant (39 percent on nearly 4 attempts a game in the regular season) and Ferguson (37 percent on four attempts) doing their thing. It comes down to George, who looked significantly better and more aggressive in Game 2, to continue finding his rhythm on offense. Westbrook is doing more than his part of the bargain.
Perhaps if those two or three extra shots fall in succession, the “sh*tty” plays will disadvantage Portland the way they doomed OKC. They will need it to happen starting Friday night.