Russell Westbrook had a huge night but it wasn’t enough for the Thunder to beat the Rockets in Game 2.
USA TODAY Sports
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Russell Westbrook debate has been raging yet again since Wednesday night, when the Oklahoma City Thunder star imploded in the fourth quarter of a Game 2 loss against the Houston Rockets in their first-round playoff series.
He missed 14 of 18 fourth-quarter shots in spectacularly reckless form. The Thunder were outscored 29-22, thus falling behind 2-0 in this series that has been widely billed as the MVP showdown between Westbrook and the Rockets’ James Harden. He finished with as costly a 50-point triple-double as you’ll ever find, not only because it ended in a playoff loss but because his postgame assessment — “I don’t give a (expletive) about the (box score) line” — led to a $15,000 fine from the NBA.
To hear some fans and media members tell the story leading up to Game 3 in Oklahoma City on Friday night, the return of the “Bad Russ” alter ego clearly means Westbrook is barely employable anymore as an NBA player — let alone a star who might wind up winning the league’s Maurice Podoloff trophy (which, we repeat, does not take playoffs into account and was already voted on by media members at the end of the regular season).
But to hear the Houston perspective at the team’s shoot-around on Friday morning was to be reminded that doubting him has always been a fool’s errand. To steal a phrase from the San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich, it’s quite clear that — even with Westbrook having shot just 34.8% overall and 22.7% from three-point range so far in this series — there is an appropriate fear here that the Rockets know they must maintain.
“We tried to put as many bodies in front of Russell Westbrook as it takes,” Rockets point guard Pat Beverley said. “If we could put more (players) out there, it’d be better for us. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s been doing phenomenal things all season, so we’re just trying to make it as tough as possible on him… There’s no one person in this league that can stop Russ. It’s been proven. It’s a team effort, and we’ll just try to make it as tough as possible for him.
“Any of the games that we’ve played OKC so far, it hasn’t been easy. So we have to stay locked in, of course, through the whole game and weather Russell Westbrook’s attack, weather the three-point shots, the dunks that they get, weather that storm and continue to play our game.”
Considering Beverley’s well-deserved reputation as one of the league’s most dogged defenders, the Rockets’ top candidate to serve as a Westbrook stopper, it spoke volumes to hear him admit that there is no mano-a-mano showdown to be seen here. But that truth was there for all to see in the Game 2 fourth quarter, when the Rockets…