You probably woke up this morning still thinking about last night’s game. (Maybe that’s because by the time it ended, your alarm was just a few hours from going off.) You probably woke up thinking about wasted possessions, silly jumpers, stupid turnovers and little ball movement.
In other words, you probably woke up thinking about Russell Westbrook.
Like I said last night, yes, Westbrook was not good. Too many shots, too much forcing, too little trust. He tried to take the weight of the game and put it on his back. It’s an admirable thing for a player to possess that kind of fortitude, but a line always has to be drawn there. Especially when you’ve got this guy named Kevin Durant on the floor with you.
Everyone was talking about Westbrook’s game, his 30 shots and how he hogged in crunch time. So I looked at the Thunder’s last 15 possessions last night, spanning back to about five minutes left. At the time, Oklahoma City trailed 89-83. Let’s rewind.
1. KD attacks the rim and draws a shooting foul. Good offense, good decision by Durant to take the ball into the paint. He sinks both. 89-85, 5:28 left.
2. This was one of those bad possessions. Little ball movement, a lot of dribbling. Result? Westbrook from 20 feet. Clang. 89-85, 4:46 left.
3. Again, smart move by Durant to attack the paint. He gets fouled and sinks both free throws. 89-87, 4:30 left.
4. Westbrook picks up an iffy offensive foul as he bumps into Ty Lawson at the top of the key. Westbrook was trying to force his penetration a bit there and while Lawson sort of exaggerated contact, he got the call. 91-87, 4:03 left.
5. KD misses a 3-pointer. Not the best look in the world, but clean enough, especially for Durant. Westbrook grabs the offensive rebound. New possession for OKC. 93-87, 3:24 left.
6. This was the game’s deciding sequence I think. Westbrook made a really nice drive on the left wing and got to the rim. He did appear to be fouled on the arm and missed a layup at the rim. But instead of forgetting about it, he stood and complained to the baseline official. His man, Lawson, raced up the floor with Westbrook still in the backcourt. The Thunder’s defense had to try and rotate and recover to handle Lawson, leaving Danilo Gallinari wide open for 3. Swish. 96-87, 3:04 left.
7. Westbrook once again attacks the paint. He gets near the rim and misses a running jumper. One of those it’s-bad-because-it-didn’t-go-in type of shots. Kendrick Perkins tries to tip it in but doesn’t get it down. 96-87, 2:53 left.
8. Good offensive set finds Serge Ibaka in a good scoring position and he’s fouled. He makes one of two at the line. 97-88, 2:32 left.
9. Great little give-and-go between Westbrook and James Harden. Westbrook makes an athletic layup for an and-1. 91-97, 2:08 left.
10. Another smart offensive set that has Ibaka wide open from 20 feet. He sinks is calmly. 98-93, 1:40 left.
11. Kind of a scrambly possession here but eventually the Nuggets lose Durant who is wide open for 3 on the right wing. As KD tends to do, he drops is beautifully. 98-96, 1:08 left.
12. After a very big stop, the Thunder improbably have the ball with a chance to take the lead or tie. Everyone is thinking the same thing: KD. And clearly, the Thunder ran a set that seemed to have a couple different options for Durant to get the ball. And he got the ball on the wing with about 10 seconds left with Raymond Felton covering him. KD appeared to sense a double coming so he gave the ball back to Westbrook with eight on the shot clock. Plus, KD saw Gallo was on Westbrook. Now Westbrook had to make a play right there. He got a solid look from 3 with Gallinari covering him. Maybe he should’ve attacked there, but instead he took a decent look. Rimmed out. 98-96, 25 seconds left.
13. Down four, OKC goes for the quick two which Westbrook gets, fairly easily too. 100-98, 16 seconds left.
14. The Nuggets make one of two and here’s the really bad shot by Westbrook. With a solid 15 seconds on the clock, the Thunder chooses not to advance the ball with a timeout, which is unlike Scott Brooks. As a result, the ball goes to Westbrook on the inbound and he tries to do it all on his own. He takes a fairly wild 3 that airballs. Now again, horrible, stupid shot. But I have to wonder why Brooks didn’t take a timeout here. He’s taken one in this situation all season long. Because he didn’t have a chance to talk to his group and make them understand time and situation, Westbrook seemed to sort of go tunnel vision trying to desperately tie the game. I think this was as much a gaffe by Brooks as it was a bad shot by Westbrook. 101-98, seven seconds left.
15. Down five, the Thunder calls timeout after two Denver free throws to advance it. KD comes off a pick and smoothly drills a 3. 103-101, four seconds left.
16. After a split at the line, Westbrook has to rush up the floor with under four seconds left and misses a long heave. 104-101, fin.
OK, so absorb all that for one second. The last five minutes which included 16 possessions (18 including a couple offensive rebounds), here’s the usage distribution: nine for Westbrook, five for KD, two for Ibaka. And I think with a couple of Westbrook’s — the give-and-go with Harden, the layup with 16 seconds left and even the two missed shots in the paint — weren’t bad shots at all. Re-watching it, I’d say the two bad ones were the 20-footer with 4:46 left and the desperate 3 with seven ticks remaining. His 3-pointer over Gallo wasn’t the best decision in the world, but with the shot clock up against him, he chose to shoot instead of drive. He probably should’ve attacked and maybe stopped for his good 18-foot jumper, but he went for the big shot.
To me, remove the bad shot with seven seconds left and I’ve got a hard time saying Westbrook did much out of character or that bad the last five minutes. Now the other 43 minutes? Some curious shots. But I think you could make a decent point that what lost the Thunder this game in the closing minutes was more about allowing points than getting them (i.e. the play Westbrook didn’t hustle back).
Again, I’ll say it once more just to really stress it: Westbrook shouldn’t have taken 30 shots in this game. Kelly Dwyer of BDL put it well I thought. “RW can put up 30 shots, I don’t mind even if that means Kevin Durant takes half as many. His offensive potential is good enough to ignore Durant in that way. But Westbrook has to manage it properly, and that just wasn’t happening in Game 4.” Absolutely true. It’s not like Earl Watson went trigger happy here. Russell Westbrook is a really good offensive player.
But in terms of the execution late, I think you pin the dumb 3-pointer with seven seconds left on Westbrook. Other than that, not a lot of complaints from me.