Andrew Gilman

The response of Russ: Telling and troubling

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) guards against Utah Jazz guard Ricky Rubio (3) in the first half during Game 3 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Saturday, April 21, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The response of Russ: Telling and troubling

If you felt good about the Oklahoma City Thunder before Game 3, nothing that happened Saturday night should change your mind.

Yes, OKC played poorly, went dormant (again) in the fourth quarter and seemed to rely on varying degrees of isolation ball. But so what? That’s kind of the team the Thunder are. Been doing it all year and lost a number of games using that formula. Won a lot of games that way, too.

So, really, falling behind 2-1 and losing on Utah’s home floor, shouldn’t be enough to change anyone’s mind about what may happen in the near future for Oklahoma City.

Well, maybe. Except for one thing. One thing we haven’t seen this season, or certainly haven’t heard this season, happened late Saturday night.

We’ve been led to believe the wins and the losses don’t matter – that the stars of the Thunder will be there when the playoffs start and the experience of multiple-time All-Stars will be the deciding factor. All season long, the Thunder have undervalued losses while the rest of us have over-valued wins. We’ve seen surly Russell Westbrook and we’ve seen mellow Carmelo. We’ve seen “Playoff P” and heard from stoic Billy D.

We haven’t seen panic, or desperation, or the cry of the defeated like we heard last night from Westbrook when he went off on Utah guard Ricky Rubio. We haven’t seen him so blatantly worry about himself before. We haven’t seen him so desperate.

Losing games the way the Thunder did isn’t troublesome. Neither is falling behind 2-1. After all, a Game 4 win at Utah and then home-court advantage in two of the last three games wouldn’t be so bad, but hearing a beaten, badly outplayed and whiny Westbrook making promises is reason for concern. He’s never done it before.

No big deal if it’s Joel Embid talking. He’s clownish. Who cares if a statement like that came from Draymond Green? Draymond says stuff like that all the time. Westbrook doesn’t, and to make them about Rubio shows a sad level of concession that proves Westbrook isn’t about the team like so many want to believe he is.

“He made some shots,” Westbrook said of Rubio. “Too comfortable. But I’m gonna shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”

Remember, it’s Westbrook who has told us on numerous occasions that he plays the same way against everyone. Doesn’t treat Toronto any different than the USC Trojans. Now, Westbrook’s actions show differently – that, in fact, he does care more about the Houstons and the Warriors than he does about the rest of the league. but Saturday’s soliloquy was equal parts telling and shocking.

We want to think Russ is a terminator and unaffected by media buzz or ridiculous expectations and accusations about whether he pads his stats and the numbers are more important than his team’s success. Yet, here he was Saturday after a dismal game lashing out with his version of a, “Yeah, but,” argumentation and proving with his own words that his rep is more important than OKC’s crumbling season. After all, Westbrook has shot 36 percent in the first three games against Utah. He has 16 turnovers, too, including eight on Saturday when he went 5-of-17 shooting. He’s been bad and he’s been shown up, like he was Saturday when he wasn’t good on offense and didn’t give much effort on defense. It was Rubio who had the triple-double and it was Westbrook who was embarrassed by it and finally showed a bit of defense, even it was just him being defensive.

Russ got worked. Simple as that. Worked by a lesser player, too, and Russ responded by promising Rubio wouldn’t do it again. Russ didn’t promise his team would win. He didn’t promise that he would be a better leader and didn’t promise anything kin to teamwork or unity. Westbrook was looking out for himself. It was obvious.

The losses will happen. No one cruises through the playoffs. It’s expected to have bad games. Hearing your team’s superstar meltdown and show maybe he isn’t really in this thing for his teammates isn’t expected, that’s what has to be the most-troubling thing moving forward for OKC.




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