The playoffs are upon us, but unfortunately the Oklahoma City Thunder got off to an inauspicious start, getting lambasted by 31 points at the hands of the Houston Rockets in Game 1.
SIX THINGS FROM THE WEEK
Oscar Robertson endorses Russell Westbrook. In a very cool moment, Oscar Robertson traveled to Oklahoma City to personally congratulate Westbrook on breaking his triple-double record. While I’ve written a lot about what Westbrook’s record chase has meant for the team, one thing I haven’t yet mentioned is how much respect the legends of the game have for Westbrook. Last fall, Michael Jordan came to Oklahoma City to induct Westbrook into the state Hall of Fame, and as Westbrook’s magical season continued, many notable former players have heaped copious amounts of praise on Westbrook, including Shaquille O’Neal, Tracy McGrady, and Scottie Pippen. A highlight, though, was Robertson’s closing statement to the crowd in Oklahoma City: “I just have one more thing to say, M-V-P.”
Josh Huestis! In the final regular season game of the year, Huestis hit a season high in minutes (24), filling up the stat sheet with 7 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 2 assists. In addition to showing a flash of promise, he also supplied us with a highlight-reel putback.
That MVP Race. All 100 votes have been submitted in what promises to be one of the closest MVP races in history. Houston Rockets blog, The Dream Shake, has been compiling known votes from known voters (with a crowd-sourcing assist), and as of April 17, with 60 of 100 first-place votes determined, they estimate that Westbrook currently leads James Harden, 512-441. While Westbrook is running away with the first-place votes, Harden is similarly running away with the second-place votes. It leaves open the possibility that Harden may backdoor his way to the MVP award if supporters of Harden (and Lebron James and Kawhi Leonard) put Westbrook third or worse on their ballots.
Context. Per ESPN Stats & Info, teams to lose the first game of an NBA playoff series by at least 30 points have lost 22 of the last 23 series. The one who didn’t lose? Last year’s Thunder. In the Western Conference Semifinals, the San Antonio Spurs blasted the Thunder by 32 in Game 1, but the Thunder went on to win 4 of the next 5 to take the series. Now, as Weston Shepherd noted yesterday, things are quite a bit different this year, but caution should be exercised before drawing massive conclusions about Sunday’s disappointing result.
Minutes. Before the playoffs, Royce Young wrote that Westbrook’s load should increase in the playoffs, but if Game 1 is any indication, the increase may be smaller than expected. Though Russ played just 34 minutes, he sat the final 4 minutes with the outcome decided. However, even if we assume he would’ve played the final 4 minutes, a 38-minute night would be less than Lebron James, Paul George, Jimmy Butler, Gordon Hayward, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving to just name a few. In fact, 13 players recorded more than 38 minutes in their respective game 1s. In fact, Westbrook played more than 38 minutes in two of the four games against Houston in the regular season, and he averaged 37 minutes per game against the Rockets in the regular season. Again, with caveat that it was only Game 1, Westbrook’s load arguably did not increase at all. With the season on the line, and maybe Billy Donovan should consider playing the league’s likely MVP more minutes.
All About Dre. Even before the Rockets blew open the game, the game was frustrating to watch. The Thunder generally looked like an unorganized mess, turning the ball over at a high rate, failing to rebound, and missing defensive assignments. Andre Roberson, though, was a bright spot. Roberson played one of the best games of his career, scoring a playoff career-high 18 points on 7-10 shooting, including 4-6 from three. Defensively, he was clearly the best player on the court as the only player to put up any form of resistance against James Harden. If Roberson had just a tiny bit of help from Westbrook, Mr. $100 million (Steven Adams), and Mr. $85 million (Victor Oladipo), the Thunder might’ve had a punchers’ chance.
AND ONE MORE MAKES SEVEN
Therapeutic. While Patrick Beverly got the better of the Thunder overall, this was pretty enjoyable to watch.