Russell Westbrook had another poor game in the Oklahoma City Thunder's stunning overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks in Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference Finals. The young point guard, who has been getting lots of criticism for his erratic play, shot just 7-22 from the field and had six turnovers. Worse, he couldn't help his team execute properly during its late-game collapse, and while that is not all on him, he deserves some blame.
There have been many theories presented about Westbrook's play in this series and his long-term fit with fellow superstar Kevin Durant, but truthfully, the problem is much simpler. The Mavericks simply have defended Westbrook better than any other team in the league, dating back to the regular season. As Sports Illustrated's Zach Lowe notes, Westbrook is now shooting 34 percent from the field in the seven meetings between these two teams.
A deeper look from NBA.com Stats Cube reveals that it's even worse. In three regular-season games against Dallas, Westbrook averaged just 14.3 points per game on 32 percent shooting with a dreadful 41.4 percent true shooting percentage. The Thunder were also outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions when Westbrook was on the court. In this series, Westbrook is averaging 21.8 points per game on 35 percent shooting, which is an improvement, but he's also averaging just 4.8 assists per game and 5.3 turnovers, and he's still been a net negative in the plus/minus department.
This is why team defense is so important in the NBA. The primary defender on Westbrook has usually been Jason Kidd, who one would think is way too slow to chase Westbrook around. But Kidd does a brilliant job of funneling Westbrook into Dallas' help defense and uses Westbrook's shaky decision-making against him. The Mavericks' big men (Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood) do a great job of helping Kidd, and it all forces Westbrook into bad shots and turnovers.
It sounds a bit trite, but when analyzing Westbrook's struggles this series, the truth is the Mavericks deserve way more credit than they are getting. As erratic as Westbrook sometimes is, he doesn't struggle like this against any other team. He's not beating himself as much as the Mavericks' defense is beating him.