To live and die by the hands of Russell Westbrook. That’s the Oklahoma City Thunder motto and strategy. How’s it working so far? Hanging on by a thread to the 8th place in the West, but at least it’s entertaining, as he was in a 122-118 win over the Boston Celtics.
The Thunder do have some excuses, valid ones. Kevin Durant is missing since February 19, and that’s just one of the many injuries he’s been held back by this season. Serge Ibaka is in need of surgery. With all due respect to Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, D.J. Augustin and the center duo of Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, Westbrook is in a league of his own right now, even when compared to the best players in the league.
But not always in a good way. His usage ratings are off the charts, by far the most in the NBA. He’s scoring and missing and passing and turning the ball over and melting down and showing mental toughness. Mercurial might be the best word. Maybe it always has. Lightning in a bottle. Just look at the stat line: 36 points, 5 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 steals and 7 turnovers. He shot 8-of-26 from the field and turned the ball over 7 times. Good? Bad? The Thunder won by 7 points during his 40 minutes. This time there was no complaining.
One interesting matchup in this game also involved Westbrook, facing off against Marcus Smart, a point guard who during his college days at Oklahoma State was often compared to him. Smart had a good game, one of his best this season, scoring 25 points including 7-of-12 from beyond the arc. That sets a new record for a Celtics rookie although Smart, shooting 36.3% from the field this season, is often a lot less accurate and efficient.
Enes Kanter scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, but the Thunder are a much worse defensive team with him on the floor. Not like they have a choice. Dion Waiters scored 20 points. Westbrook has help, but most of the time, despite the 10 assists, it’s as if he’s on a one-man mission to save this team from the tragedy of not making the playoffs. Sometimes he tries so hard it hurts his own team. Sometimes his effort is so great, he manages to overcome his own mistakes.