Wednesday Bolts – 7.26.17

Micah Peters of The Ringer is for Russ: “Everything else that we claim to want from a basketball player, from a pro athlete, we have in Westbrook. He stayed instead of agitating to join a better team or go to a bigger market; he plays hard, and he gives everything. The weird commonality among Westbrook’s detractors– aside from pretending that double-digit numbers (in triples) don’t mean more to us than single-digit ones– is that none of them are satisfied with just the consistent application of those values. Westbrook needs to play a more efficient brand of basketball that fits more neatly into the bigger picture of modernity. He needs to be less like himself.”

Brian Windhorst in a 5-on-5 on OKC’s future: “He’s one of the top five players in the league, which makes him the cornerstone of a franchise and the kind of piece that can absolutely be the foundation of a champion. I think it’s dangerous to look at this season and think that’s the way it’s going to be forever. This was an outlier season for Westbrook in a lot of ways. He’s an intelligent player, and he knows this style won’t work at a championship level. The team will adapt, and he’ll adapt.”

My story on OKC’s season and what’s ahead. And my essay for SportsCenter on the Year of Russ.

ESPN Stats: “If you took that and extrapolated it over 48 minutes, the resulting score would be 216-72, with a halftime score of 108-36. In the movie Space Jam the Monstars led the Tune Squad at halftime, 66-18 (so the Westbrook-less Thunder fared much worse). The Thunder played without Westbrook for 45 minutes in the series, roughly the equivalent of a regulation game. In that time, they were outscored by 58 points. The Thunder actually won the time that Westbrook was on the court, outscoring the Rockets by 15. The difference for the Rockets was that when James Harden was off the court, they were able to play as well or better. The Rockets were plus-19 when Harden was on the court in the series. They were plus-24 when he was on the bench.”

Interesting from Ramona Shelburne yesterday: “Westbrook’s instinct to defend his teammates was admirable. But his tactics effectively demonstrated the underlying question the Thunder has been wrestling with in this series, and really since Durant left. Do they need to build a system around Westbrook, the way Morey and D’Antoni have built one around Harden? You can see the makings of that kind of a team in the way coach Thunder coach Billy Donovan has adjusted throughout the series, giving more run to versatile defenders like Taj Gibson and Jerami Grant and shooters like Alex Abrines and Doug McDermott. Of those four players, only Abrines began the season with the Thunder. The other three were acquired via trade as GM Sam Presti watched how his team played with Westbrook as the lone white hot star at center of the solar system.”

Tom Ziller of SB Nation: “The immaculate season of Russell Westbrook is over. The Houston Rockets, who are excellent, dispatched Westbrook’s Oklahoma City Thunder 4-1 to move on in the West. Westbrook left this season the way he lived it: scoring like a maniac and watching his bench give up a lead. (In Game 5, the Thunder were +12 in Westbrook’s 42 minutes and -18 in the six minutes he sat. OKC lost by six. This was a common thread throughout the series.) Westbrook fell one assist short of a triple-double, and shot just 5-of-18 on three-pointers. (Those 18 attempts tied the single-game playoff record. The others to shoot 18 in a playoff game: Ray Allen, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, and Klay Thompson.) His final game was, fittingly, a beautiful mess. But the Thunder were competitive with him on the court and a disaster without him. We’ll forever debate whether his style contributes to that fact. Perhaps the Thunder will be restocked by next fall and we’ll see a new look.”

Another Westbrook piece from SB Nation.

Patrick Redford of Deadspin: “To blame Westbrook’s occasionally jaw-dropping yet ultimately inefficient series on hardwired selfishness or hubris seems like a hollow criticism. The Rockets were the superior team, tip-to-tail, which is not something Russell Westbrook could have overcome, even though he scored oodles of points. The Thunder are a haphazardly constructed team that relies on Westbrook for so much, and when he shoots his team out of games, they only tend to ever be in those games in the first place because Westbrook shot them there. OKC was -18 in the six minutes were Russ sat and they only had a lead to lose because of his spectacular 20-point third quarter.”

Brett Dawson: “Grant, too, had his growing pains in the series. But he showed the defensive versatility he showed flashes of during the regular season, and in Oklahoma City, he was aggressive on offense, finishing with flourish around the rim. He had 11 points and five rebounds in Game 5. After a scoreless first two games in Houston, Abrines “bounced back and has given us a really, really good boost,” Donovan said. Abrines, too, scored 11 off the bench on Tuesday. Entering Tuesday, Oladipo was averaging 11.3 points per game in the series, down from the 15.9 he averaged in the regular season. Abrines, too, entered the night with a lower scoring average than in the regular season, down to 3.3 points from six. But Grant’s scoring number was up, from 5.4 to 8.8 points, and all three players had made plays in significant moments.”

Berry Tramel: “And so ended a historic season, when Westbrook not only restored life to a franchise and a city demoralized by Kevin Durant’s departure, but infused it with uncommon energy with his pursuit of Oscar Robertson’s achievement of a season triple double. Westbrook climbed that mountain, and tried to lift the Thunder to playoff success, which would have staked 2016-17 as a monument to perseverance. But it was not to be, on a night when the Thunder ran out of gas, and Westbrook ran out of the gym to an exit far from what he deserved.”

Matt Moore of CBSSports.com: “Russell Westbrook’s insane, amazing, flawed, wonderful, thrilling, excruciating season is over. The future will be about finding a formula for success that doesn’t ask so much of him, through roster and play style changes. But we’ll never forget what it was like to watch him try this season. It was brutal, it was awe-inspiring, it was unbelievable, it was 100 percent on his terms. Westbrook had nothing to lose this season. He gave it all anyway, and in the deafening silence of this unceremonious first round exit, we’re left wondering what he could possibly do next.”

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