NBA

Thunder Drop Game 3 at Home, and Westbrook is at Fault

Thunder Drop Game 3 at Home, and Westbrook is at Fault

“If you can’t handle me at my Worstbrook, you don’t deserve me at my Bestbrook.” –a beleaguered Russell Westbrook in the Thunder locker room post-Game 3, probably.

All jokes aside, Westbrook and the Thunder blew a golden chance to swing the momentum of the series in a pivotal Game 3. The Thunder could’ve taken a 2-1 lead with two home games remaining, but Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs had other plans. Instead, they fell to San Antonio 100-96. Go figure.

In a rare moment for him, Westbrook shouldered the blame after the game: “We missed shots and it’s execution,” he explained. “It starts with me. I have to do a better job of executing and putting guys in position to score the basketball. To beat this team, you have to find ways to move the ball around.”

Some ball distribution would’ve been nice, but Westbrook ended up missing as many shots as Durant took (21 misses to KD’s 18 attempts). As you can see from his shot chart, Russell Westbrook missed from all over the court. Worryingly, the majority of his misses were right at the cup. Although he scored 31 points, it took as many shots to get there. He also made just three of his 10 three point attempts.

Russ’s usage rate on the game (the percentage of plays that end in either a field goal attempt, free throw attempt, or a turnover) was 46.7%. In the playoffs, when possessions slow down and come at a very high premium, Billy Donovan would probably like to see his point guard share the ball a bit more. The Thunder were in a position to shift the momentum and the series, and Westbrook literally shot his own team out of the game. Cue the ‘Westbrick’ jokes.
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Westbrook’s trademark zeal has made him a polarizing figure his whole career. Although Thunder fans have mostly reconciled taking the good with the bad, a game like last night will make anyone question whether or not his production is worth it. The mercurial point guard has always played with the feverish abandon, and it’s clear that he’s not going to change his game for any amount of criticism. It’s undeniable, though, that the Thunder were at their best in Game 3 when Westbrook was focused on distributing the ball.

Full disclosure: I am a huge Russell Westbrook fan. I firmly believe that he’ll bounce back in a transcendent way in Game 4. However, this kind of performance at a critical juncture in the series is concerning and makes one wonder if the Spurs are in his head.

Game 3 was a tale of two point guards. While Westbrook was hoisting and forcing shot attempts all night, Tony Parker exhibited his veteran savvy. He took 14 shots, but each of them was within the flow of the offense and only after looking to set up his teammates. Parker ended up with 19 points and eight assists.

It’s been said so many times that it may as well be a cliché, but Kawhi Leonard absolutely terrorized the Thunder on both ends of the floor. Leonard is somehow still underrated (likely because of his taciturn demeanor), but I feel as if he could be one of the game’s all-time greats. Leonard scored 31 points on 52% shooting (10-14 from the line), adding 11 rebounds (including two clutch offensive boards) and three assists. LaMarcus Aldridge, despite shooting just 38% (compared to 75% through the first two games), still scored 24 points and added eight boards.

Lost in all of this was a vintage playoff performance from Kevin Durant. KD had 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting. He seems to have found his jump shot after struggling in round one against the Mavericks. It’s dismaying to see that, despite making the same amount of shots, Westbrook took almost twice as many as Durant. The Thunder’s old issues under Scott Brooks are starting to rear their ugly heads again.

Even though the state of Oklahoma is collectively pushing the panic button this morning, there are some positive takeaways from the game. The two biggest areas for improvement: transition defense (especially on three point shooters) and shot selection. Defense is simply a matter of focus and intensity—the Thunder will need to have a gut check between now and Game 4.

On offense, Westbrook needs to realize that, unless he has a hot hand, taking 31 shots won’t win games against arguably one of the best rosters ever. This season, in games where Westbrook attempts 10 or more threes (like Game 3), OKC is 1-16.

Despite the dire outlook, the Thunder only lost by a four point margin. It should be fairly clear upon review what the Thunder need to do to bounce back after getting punched in the mouth again.

Bold prediction time: whoever wins Game 4 will take the series. The critical Game 4 is set to kick off tomorrow, May 8th, at 7:00 P.M. in Oklahoma City.

(Statistics and shot chart courtesy of basketball-reference.com)

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