By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com
OKLAHOMA CITY – It took Memphis coach Dave Joerger seven games to finally shake his head and throw up his arms.
“I have no idea why he takes the flack that he takes,” Joerger said. “This man can play.”
This man is Russell Westbrook. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers needed just two games and a third playoff triple-double from the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard to say the same.
“He gets criticized a lot, but I don’t know why,” Rivers said. “The dude plays hard.”
Still, the dude gets piled on, so much so that Kevin Durant felt compelled to address it in his MVP acceptance speech: “A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player…”
Criticism revolves around a Westbrook tendency to go off on volume-shooting binges. The theory goes his poor judgment steals shots from Durant, the more natural scorer who should always finish with more attempts.
Lost in this simplified dissection is that Durant is a four-time scoring champ, and now the MVP in six seasons playing alongside Westbrook. Together they’ve made two Western Conference finals and one NBA Finals. Had Westbrook, 25, not torn the meniscus in his right knee in last year’s postseason, well, who knows?
Westbrook’s full-throttle, yet totally in-control Game 2 performance for a third triple-double in five games thrust him into elite company. Only four other players have produced three or more triple-doubles (but no more than four) in a single postseason going back to 1985: Magic Johnson had four in 1991 and three in each 1986 and 1987; Larry Bird had three in 1986; Rajon Rondo recorded four in 2012 and three in 2009; Jason Kidd had four in 2002; and LeBron James had three last season.
Just a reminder: The Thunder and Clippers are only headed into Game 3 of the second round (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Westbrook’s Game 2 mega-performance of 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals is a four-category combination so rare in the postseason that only three other players have managed it: Charles Barkley (32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals) in 1993; Gary Payton in 2000 (35 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, six steals); and James in 2013 (32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals).
Going 13-for-22 from the floor (59.1 percent) made Westbrook the first point guard in NBA playoff history to post at least 30 points on 59-percent shooting while also accumulating double-digit rebounds and assists. He’s the first player to do it since Barkley in 1993, and he became only the sixth player since 1985 to accomplish such a stat line, also joining Ralph Sampson (1986), James Worthy (1988), Michael Jordan (1989) and James (2010).
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Westbrook scored his Game 2 points in a variety of ways — pull-up jumpers, post-ups against his smaller counterparts Chris Paul and especially Darren Collison, full-speed penetrations, plus two 3-pointers on four attempts.
“Just taking what the defense gives me,” Westbrook said afterward.
Hard to criticize that.