There’s not a ton of history between Raymond Felton and Russell Westbrook, but enough I guess for Felton to feel the need to basically call Westbrook out.
Westbrook was hyper-energetic on the defensive end last night guarding Felton, really trying to swipe at the ball and cause havoc. It had mixed results with Westbrook sometimes creating good pressure and turnovers, but other times he gambled too much and forced OKC’s defense to collapse and rotate after Felton got by him. It obviously didn’t work enough as Portland beat the Thunder 103-93 with Felton putting up 12 points and seven assists.
Felton noticed this. And I guess he took it somewhat personally, essentially calling Westbrook out for not being a team player. Via Jason Quick of the Oregonian:
“That’s the type of guy he is, that’s his mindset, that’s how he plays,” Felton said when I remarked about Westbrook’s win-the-battle, but lose-the-war mentality. “He’s always in a one-on-one battle with all the point guards. I’m not really into that. I’m into winning. If you win, everybody gets the praises. We are not wearing ‘Felton’ on the front of our jerseys; it says Blazers. I care about the Blazers winning.”
I think we can all read between the lines there. Felton is essentially saying that Westbrook only cares about showing up the man across from him, not that his Thunder win the game.
Having watched Westbrook for three full seasons though, I’d say that’s entirely unfair. There isn’t anyone on the roster — not even Kevin Durant — that cares about winning as much as Westbrook. He almost cares too much, which is why his over-aggressive style can be seen as selfish sometimes. Westbrook has always had a chip on his shoulder and has always wanted to prove people wrong.
Scott Brooks made a point to single Westbrook’s performance out last night though.
“I thought Russell had one of his best games,” he said. “He left everything on the court. He made plays for us. He was moving the ball. He was defending.”
Felton saw that as being selfish though. Which I think is just a mis-read of how Westbrook plays. Because Russ has gotten heated with a lot of other point guards — Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Deron Williams, Derek Fisher and basically 25 others who happen to be opposing him on any given night. Westbrook plays emotional and approaches each game as a challenge to beat the man across from him. I think he sees it as if he can do that, his team will win.
And in most cases, it’s true. But that’s part of what the NBA is — one-on-one battles. Games within games. Kobe wants to humiliate the defender trying to check him. Same with KD. It’s how they approach it. Does that mean they’re selfish? Some certainly would think Kobe is at times but his main objective is winning. Felton is suggesting that winning the game comes second behind winning the individual matchup.
Felton and Westbrook did battle out it in the playoffs last season with Felton’s Nuggets falling to the Thunder in five games. Felton had a front row seat to the beginning of the supposed ball-hog noise following Westbrook that really started with Game 4 in Denver where Westbrook took 30 shots. But at the same time, Westbrook’s Thunder handled Denver fairly easily in a gentleman’s sweep en route to the Western Conference Finals.
This is the type of thing you can be sure Westbrook has heard and will think about when the Blazers play the Thunder again. It probably isn’t all that tough to get into Westbrook’s head so it could be a little psychological warfare on Russ. Which isn’t a bad move by Felton considering the events surrounding Westbrook the past few days.
Tuesday night, Felton got the better of Westbrook by playing a calm, measured point compared to Westbrook’s frenzied, aggressive one. Felton’s team won the game. We’ll see what happens next time.