HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS (DALLAS OFFICE) — If three rounds of the NBA playoffs have taught us anything here at HT, it’s that conventional wisdom no longer applies around these parts.
Take a look at the last four teams standing. Two of them, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls, are led by guys barely old enough to legally purchase adult beverages.
That’s why we’re tossing out the conventional point guard manual for the Western Conference finals, where Thunder blur Russell Westbrook will square off against Jason Kidd, an all-time great at the position who, even at 38, remains one of the most dangerous players in the game.
But not even Kidd should be able to handle the fiery Westbrook, who has taken loads of criticism during this postseason for being more of a scorer rather than a facilitator and overall floor general. Westbrook has extra gears that only a handful of players in the league can match, guys like league MVP Derrick Rose.
Much like Rose in the Eastern Conference finals, Westbrook’s triple-threat (scorer, facilitator, defender) abilities make him the most crucial player in the Western Conference finals.
A scorer like Kevin Durant can push his team over the top when he’s rolling, the way he did in the Thunder’s Game 7 win Sunday over our beloved Hang Time Grizzlies. But a triple threat changes the complexion of games by delivering in phase of the game, the way Westbrook did with his Game 7 triple-double of 14 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
Just so we’re clear on how ridiculous a performance this was from Westbrook, understand that this was the first triple-double in a Game 7 since Scottie Pippen did it in 1992. It was only the fifth in Game 7 history, putting Westbrook on a short list that includes Pippen, Jerry West, Larry Bird and James Worthy.
Much more important for Westbrook, though, was the way his work was received by his teammates, as evidenced by Nick Collison‘s words to the Oklahoman:
“I thought he was great,” said Nick Collison, who complemented Westbrook as the Thunder’s defensive savior with his performance on Zach Randolph.
“He was trying to do everything he could to help us win.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks nailed it when he described Westbrook’s play after that Game 7 win.
“He gets picked on a little bit, but Russell keeps playing,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “He keeps improving. He keeps getting better. Tonight he controlled the game. He didn’t shoot the ball very well, but he controlled the basketball game. He controlled us on offense. He controlled us on defense. He had us in sets. He had us in the right schemes defensively.”
If Westbrook keeps it up against the Mavericks, he’ll go a long way towards shutting up his critics — not to mention making life miserable for Kidd and the rest of the Mavericks’ guards charged with trying to slow him down.