OKLAHOMA CITY — Watching the whirlwind that is Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook requires restraint that Westbrook himself has not shown through two games of the The Finals.
When your play inspires the sort of visceral reaction it did from the man whose picture is in the dictionary under point guard, Hall of Famer and Lakers’ legend Magic Johnson, you know we’ve reached a critical situation.
“That was the worst point guard in the championship finals I’ve seen,” Johnson said during ESPN’s halftime show, articulating a frustration many have had watching Westbrook struggle to find the right balance between the scorer that he knows himself to be and the facilitator the Thunder need him to be.
His 20-for-50 shooting numbers through two games belong in the head-scratcher Hall of Fame, especially when you consider that Kevin Durant and James Harden are his teammates.
But Westbrook’s wedding vows game — for better or worse — make it extremely difficult to makes sense of what he’s doing to the Thunder. Without his aggression on both ends in Game 1, the Thunder don’t rally late to win that game. Without his reckless play early in Game 2, maybe they don’t fall behind the way they did early and struggle the way they did for the better part of the first 40 minutes.
Thunder coach Scott Brooks has remained steadfast in his public support of Westbrook, as he should.
‘He’s never going to be John Stockton. He’s never going to be Mo Cheeks, one of (Brooks’) assistant coaches,” Brooks said, per Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman (courtesy of ABC play-by-play man Mike Breen). “But there are a lot of players out there who are never going to be Russell Westbrook.”
Brooks knows his team wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t allowed Westbrook the freedoms he has all season.
And the Westbrook we saw in Game 1 is the one that worries Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team has had to deal with two of the league’s dynamically different star point guards in Boston’s Rajon Rondo in the Eastern Conference finals and now Westbrook.
“Both of them are equally challenging in a different way,” Spoelstra said. “Rondo is a such a brilliant basketball maestro, reads a game and as soon as you turn your head and make one mistake, he makes you pay for it. This [Westbrook] is a relentless assault that just keeps coming, and if you’re not back ahead of the play, body in front of it, and that has to be multiple bodies in front of it, he’ll make you play. And that relentlessness is probably part of his greatness.”
But it’s also part of the madness, which is a rather sensitive topic around these parts, by the way.
Westbrook is so good when he’s at his aggressive best, and his turnovers are kept to a minimum as they been here lately, that he creates opportunities for himself and everyone else when his energy is channeled properly.
It’s easy to overlook the bad when Westbrook’s good is so great.
Westbrook certainly sees nothing wrong with the way he played Game 2 (those designer frames he wears aren’t magical, after all, they’re not even BluBlockers).
When asked if he felt he was straddling the line between playing aggressive and reckless, Westbrook gave that idea the Heisman pose.
“I didn’t think so,” he said. “I just thought I was playing my game, got easy shots that I usually make, lay-ups, just playing my game. Just unfortunately, the shots weren’t falling.”
What Westbrook must understand for the Thunder to get back on track in this series is that his game has to be about so much more than whether or not his shots are falling …