When favorites and superior teams lose, someone has to be set aside and blamed for the failure. Some are easier to point a finger at than others, which happens to be the case for Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers.
Both the Thunder and the Pacers are top seeds finding themselves in something of a predicament: Behind 2-1 in their series against the Grizzlies and the Hawks respectively, playing another game on the road before heading back home. For both teams there is more than just one problem they’re dealing with, which usually points towards coaching rather than one player shouldering the blame, but sometimes it’s easier to point fingers at things that are easier to explain.
Explaining how Scott Brooks has failed to create an offensive system that doesn’t just rely on Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook pulling up for contested shots, the later in the game the more they do that while ignoring teammates? That’s difficult. Simply using the same old narrative of Westbrook ruining everything for the Thunder because he wants to be the Alpha of this offense strikes more of a chord among people.
Explaining how the Pacers’ offense has completely stagnated over the last couple of months? How Paul George and Lance Stephenson keep the ball in their hands too much, while George Hill as pretty much been evaporated from the offensive game? How things look better for them in small-ball lineups that don’t include a center? Simply saying Roy Hibbert is to blame for everything is easier to do.
Hibbert is the basis for the Pacers defense – length and size have always been the key, but Hibbert is forced to move away from the basket to guard guys like Pero Antic and Paul Millsap, having their way with him once he travels far away from the rim. He has never been the most athletic of guys, so it’s easy to see why he is less effective on defense. Offensively, he actually looks like someone who has never stepped on a basketball court before. That’s one on him and not the head coach, but the Pacers do have more issues than just Hibbert playing like a D-league player.
Westbrook? Always a mystery. His reactions to the press at the end of game 3 against the Grizzlies show a mindset of a player feeling hounded by the press. Sometimes what actually happens inside and what players/coaches tell reporters aren’t the same thing, but the Thunder avoiding answering legitimate questions about their shot selection and overall decision making on offense makes Westbrook seem guilty more than he should be, while Scott Brooks won’t be able to get away with his brand of primitive coaching for much longer.