The Oklahoma City Thunder were cruising to a comfortable victory on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, until they stopped playing defense, stopped thinking or maybe even stopped playing hard. That’s the explanation you’ll get from Kevin Durant and Billy Donovan. Where is Russell Westbrook in all of this?
Westbrook finished the game with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 12 assists. He also turned the ball over five times, and the Thunder finished with a -12 in his 37 minutes. He shot 8-of-21 from the field, and most importantly, didn’t make a single field goal in the fourth quarter. With the Clippers leading by three points (101-98) and the clock running down (it was 11 seconds to go when the play began), Westbrook added another weird fourth quarter, crunch time mistake to his arsenal. The Clippers won 103-98, coming back from 22 points down.
Westbrook doesn’t think in these situations. He’s an instincts player. He has great court vision and has the ability to step on the jugular when necessary, but for years has been something of an Achilles heel for the Thunder in close games, when it’s not just about his exploding athleticism. Westbrook ran the floor and could have created a better situation for himself or someone else. But he decided on a weird three point attempt with a player breathing down his neck, maybe trying to get a foul or thinking about getting up a shot quickly and grabbing an offensive rebound if it doesn’t work.
But the bottom line? It was a bad shot. Like the other misses (Westbrook was 0-for-6 from the field in the fourth quarter), it was simply bad shot selection. Now Westbrook isn’t a dumb player. But his decision making changes when it’s a close game, especially when the Thunder are playing from behind. Not so much his attempts to do things on his own, because Durant does the same thing, but the kind of situations he puts himself when trying to do it on his own.
It’s not just offense. Westbrook gambles too much on defense or nods off when his player moves around screens. He can be one of the best defenders in the NBA, and leads a fast break off a steal more impressively than anyone, pretty much unstoppable on his way to the hoop. But when it comes to less flashy stuff, Westbrook, like Durant, often neglects the defensive end, costing his team points he usually easily makes up for on the other end.
This isn’t a “Thunder are better without Westbrook” rant. Those days are gone. Some think he’s better and more important to them than Durant is, but this isn’t some debate or argument on the most infamous vs issue in the NBA when we’re speaking about the same team. This is about Westbrook being a hazard to his own team when games are close, which is another warning sign as the playoff approaches, with seemingly so much riding on the Thunder having a good run, considering Durant becomes a free agent at the end of the season.