There was nothing happy about Russell Westbrook after winning the scoring title. The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 138-113, but didn’t get the result they wanted from the other game in progress at the same time.
The Thunder needed the New Orleans Pelicans to lose against the San Antonio Spurs while they beat the Timberwolves to make it into the playoffs. But the Pelicans took control of that game very early, something the Thunder were aware of quite well. It didn’t stop them from blowing out their tanking rivals, but there were no happy faces at the end of the game.
While Westbrook was being asked about winning the scoring title, Scott Brooks praised his player, trying to make it seem like he did something superhuman this season. He scored 37 points on 11-of-20 from the field as his finishing act, averaging 28.1 points per game in the end, not too worried about James Harden. He became the first scoring champion since Tracy McGrady with the Orlando Magic to miss the playoffs. He can forget about the MVP award.
Westbrook said before the game scoring titles don’t matter, it’s all about making the postseason. For everything that has happened to them through this year, mainly the Kevin Durant injuries and later Serge Ibaka going down, Westbrook, more than anyone, kept this ship going in the right direction. But it didn’t get to cross the finish line, or didn’t do it in time. The Pelicans were there first thanks to their head to head record during the season. That late Anthony Davis basket, a 3-pointer on the buzzer two months ago, turns out to be the defining moment of the season for both teams.
It was a special season for Westbrook who missed 15 games but if it wasn’t for the Thunder battling for a playoff spot, he would have been a much more serious contender in the MVP discussion. That’s how the NBA narrative works: Individual greatness isn’t enough. It has to be connected with team success, and the conditions Westbrook and the Thunder worked through this season prevented that from happening.
There is more to this season or failure for the Thunder than injuries. We’ll expand on it later today and tomorrow. Coaching, defense and yes, even Westbrook himself. But to come so close yet remain on the outside, watching from home as Westbrook put it, is cruel. There’s no deserve in the NBA. The Thunder didn’t deserve this more than the Pelicans. Maybe Westbrook did, but this isn’t tennis.