The amazing season Russell Westbrook is having comes with its lows and downs. One of the biggest of them was his most recent encounter with Chris Paul, a better point guard and player, leading the Los Angeles Clippers to a comfortable 120-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Yes, Westbrook had another big game statistically, finishing with 24 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. But he also turned the ball over 10 times and hit just 5-of-14 from the field. It was one of those games when he does more harm then good, which is natural considering his insane usage ratings, the highest in the league. The Thunder don’t have a choice – he’s all they have in their attempt to remain a playoff team.
Chris Paul continues to do an excellent job of leading his team through the absence of Blake Griffin. The Clippers are 9-5 while Griffin is out. Paul scored 33 points including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc and 9 assists, but it’s also what his assists did. He was involved in 54 points for the Clippers out of their 120, 23 of his points coming from outside the paint, 14 of them on pull-up jumpers. That might not be the text book way to get points according to the efficiency trend, but Paul makes it work. Just like with Westbrook, the Clippers don’t really have a choice but rolling with it.
Paul was Westbrook’s primary defended and forced him to turn the ball over 7 times while it was his mission to stop him. Westbrook found it very difficult to get the kind of looks he’s been getting recently, with Paul doing an excellent job of interfering with Westbrook’s dribbling and forcing him out of his usual rhythm or picking up speed, which often makes it impossible to stop him, and not just for point guards.
I’m not saying that Westbrook doesn’t make others better, but it’s not his main purpose on the floor. With Paul? The better he’s playing, the better the team plays. That’s not always the case with Westbrook, often operating on a level and zone of his own. J.J. Redick scored 25 points and Matt Barnes finished with 22. The Clippers got plenty of open looks thanks to Paul’s dazzling skills and form, hitting 15-of-30 from beyond the arc.
The Thunder might be in the spotlight because of Westbrook’s triple double antics, but they’re far from safe. With a 35-29 record, they’re trailing the Pelicans by 0.5 a game (36-29). Kevin Durant is still on the sidelines, maybe waiting for things to become desperate enough. Westbrook keeps mentioning he needs to trust his teammates more, but for better or worse, he doesn’t seem to be listening to his own advice.