The Oklahoma City Thunder embody everything we want the league to be about. They're a small-market team with likeable superstars that built around character, athleticism and defense. They stand in complete contrast to the big bullies in Los Angeles, Miami and Boston. So when Russell Westbrook pulls the act he did down the stretch in Game 4 against the Nuggets, we are OUTRAGED.
To review: Westbrook took 30 shots in the game, an entirely too large number from your point guard. He often stopped running the Thunder's offense to make mad dashes to the rim or shoot horribly contested jump shots. In the last seven minutes, Westbrook ended 10 of the Thunder's possessions. Kevin Durant, meanwhile, ended just five. Clearly, the balance is a bit out of whack, and it's a problem that needs to be fixed.
But let's get real folks. There was a massive overreaction to what transpired on Monday night, and a few things need to be cleared up:
First, this has been happening all season. Between the two players, it was Westbrook, not Durant, that had the higher usage rate. In crunch time, the two have been awkward at best. There are tons of reasons for this, only some of which has to do with Westbrook. Yes, Russell gets a little antsy and tries to make too much happen, but Durant's got things to overcome too. His issue is that he's still not great at powering through defenders in isolation situations down the stretch. They crowd him, and his high dribble is an issue. He's so good at shooting over people that it often doesn't matter, but I can't blame Westbrook for sometimes thinking a drive to the basket is better. Also, don't forget Scott Brooks' overly-simple schemes, which have only marginally improved this year. In short: it's not just about Russell.
Second, we forget how young these players are. Westbrook is 22. Durant is 22. How often do we see two superstars perfectly share the ball every game? It didn't happen with Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, even though one is a guard and one is a big man. It's not going to always happen with Westbrook and Durant, especially given how both are perimeter players. Westbrook has come a long way in his development, but he's still a converted point guard that has issues to work out. Let's give him some latitude to do that.
Finally, let's think about what the Thunder really have to solve here. Besides Miami, is there any other team whose biggest issue is crunch time? Sure, it's an important issue, but other teams have bigger problems. In Los Angeles, they're wondering if they can stop point guards. In Boston, they're wondering if they're too old and small. In San Antonio, they're wondering if they can even win a round. In Chicago, they're wondering if they have enough offense to supplement Derrick Rose. Among contenders, it's only in Miami and Oklahoma City where the specific issue is how two stars get along. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have that problem than any of the others. You can overcome iffy crunch-time execution with great players making great plays. It's much harder to fill a more fundamental void.
Point being: Westbrook will be fine, the Thunder won't be perfect and we all need to relax. One bad game out of four can be allowed. Are we really shocked at a young team experiencing some struggles in high-pressure situations in the playoffs?