HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Is it just the dog days of a long season? Are the Thunder bored? Or are the Oklahoma City boys spending too much time together at the frat house?
We’ve been seeing some odd behavior lately from the reigning Western Conference champs. Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have sniped at each other on the court, more than once, of late. And in Thursday’s 106-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Russell Westbrook absolutely blew his top.
OK, so maybe Westbrook going all hot-head isn’t all that odd. But, he added a new twist when he stormed off the bench during the game to seek refuge and cool off in an arena tunnel. Getting things started was Westbrook barking at teammate Thabo Sefolosha, then putting up a shot so wild that coach Scott Brooks had to pull his All-Star point guard with just under eight minutes to go in the third quarter.
After a brief sitdown next to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks, Westbrook stood up, flipped a chair out of his way and marched off the floor.
At the time, he was having a tremendous game, too. The Thunder were leading 65-44 and Westbrook had 19 points on 8-for-13 shooting. When he left, Memphis went on a 20-10 run. When Westbrook returned to start the fourth quarter it was if nothing happened. He continued his strong play and helped the Thunder increase their lead.
He finished with 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
Afterward, TNT’s Craig Sager caught up with Westbrook in the Thunder locker room for a brief exchange.
Sager: What got you so upset?
Westbrook: Nothing, just a little miscommunication.
Sager: Between you and Thabo?
Westbrook: Nah. Just miscommunication.
Sager: At times do you think you need to control your temper more?
Westbrook: I control it like a man, like I did.
Sager: What’s that mean?
Westbrook: (doesn’t answer)
Sager: Put it behind you and go ahead and win?
Westbrook: If that’s what you say, bro.
Perhaps Oklahoman columnist Barry Tramel puts it best:
And maybe the basketball world will be better off if we accept what Westbrook is. Part hot hand, part hothead. Uncorrallable, not just by NBA opponents, but by Thunder brass.
“There’s no question he was frustrated with himself,” Brooks said. “Russell’s an emotional guy … not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustration. But that’s part of it.”
Exactly. Westbrook’s wild emotions are part of it. Maybe those wild emotions help make him who he is. Which is a ballplayer so good, he can wipe out the NBA’s best of the West the way Peter Pan took care of Captain Hook.
Only this type of disruptive behavior has been going on for years now, dating back to Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conference finals when Brooks benched Westbrook for the entire fourth quarter at Dallas and played Eric Maynor instead.
At some point, Brooks and his staff have to gain some control over Westbrook and his temper, or it will rear its ugly head during the postseason for a team that now has just one goal: NBA championship.