Russell Westbrook

USA Today

Russ Didn’t Play Like A Star

Westbrook was supposed to carry this team when KD left.

April 24, 2019 - 11:49 am

How about the Oklahoma City Thunder? More specifically, how about Russell Westbrook? Because that series did not go well for Russ in any way, shape or form. It wasn’t a good look on the court and it was an even worse series off the court.

And it would be easy to come flying in and bash Russ.

But let’s establish a couple of things first – it’s clear that Paul George is injured. That shoulder is a lot more jacked up than he’s letting on.

And it’s clear that Thunder roster isn’t well designed for Russ or today’s game. It’s a lot more jacked up than anyone’s letting on.

But something else is clear: Russ got outplayed.

Actually, he didn’t just get outplayed, he was dominated. If you want to pull an old, tired phrase out of the closet and dust it off, Damian Lillard drank his milkshake. Repeatedly.

Put it another way: when it mattered most, Damian Lillard was just flat out better than Russell Westbrook. And there’s no debate about that. Not even close.

Oklahoma City swept the Blazers in the regular season. And got CURB-stomped by them in the playoffs in five games. And that’s a Portland team playing without Nurk. They’re playing without a player who means so much to them, they got an emotional lift just from him showing up at the arena.

OKC was up by 15 with less than 8 minutes left. And by 8 with less than four minutes left. And they melted down. Completely imploded. They scored two points in the final four minutes. And during that stretch, Russ missed two shots and committed two fouls.

And that’s pretty much how the whole series went. When they needed him to do something, he couldn’t. In fact, there were long stretches where I forgot he was even on the court. When have you ever said that about a superstar?

When Portland needed Damian Lillard to do something, he did. Every time. Including the final time. And yes, I’m playing that shot again.

And I’m playing it again because of the reaction from Paul George afterwards: "That's a bad, bad shot. I don't care what anybody says. That's a bad shot. But hey, he made it. That story won't be told that it was a bad shot. We live with that."

I’m never going to crush a guy for what he says after his season has been ended. He’s devastated. Piling on guys for things that they say after a gutting loss is like shooting fish in a barrel - its way too easy. And a lot of that should be allowed to slide, given the emotions of the moment, unless it's just so egregious. 

Paul George just had a dagger rammed through his chest. He had a front row seat to one of the most insane shots ever. He’s been through worse, but that is a truly low point. And it came ended a bitter series in the worst way. And he’s human. I get him not exactly wanting to tip his cap to a rival. 

And I see him working. A few years ago, in the pre-Curry/pre-Lillard era, that wasn't just a bad shot, that was a horrible shot. 

Normally, if you’re playing defense in that situation, you’re happy if your opponent takes a shot from nearly 40 feet out. Paul George did his job. Normally that is a bad shot.

But not with Damian Lillard. And George knows that. Because that wasn’t a desperation heave. He didn’t drop the ball to his waist and chuck it like some lucky fan trying to win a car. He took that like a normal jumper. Check that, a normal step back.

Bad shot??/ That was a great shot. Paul George didn’t force Damian Lillard into that, Damian Lillard chose that. There’s a reason that “Logo Lillard” is an actual term.

And you knows what amazingly rich… imagine thinking that someone else took a bad shot when you’re sitting next to Mr. Bad Shot, Russ Westbrook.

You want bad shots? Check these numbers:

8 for 17

5 for 20

11 for 22

5 for 21

11 for 31

Those are Westbrook’s shooting numbers over the course of the series. I know he’s a volume shooter and that shooting percentage isn’t always a great way to measure him, but that’s like what he used to do with Kevin Durant. And that was always thought to be one of the reasons that KD left.

And now if you’re Paul George, you’ve got to be wondering, what did I sign up for? To watch a guy take 31 shots in an elimination game and make a third of them?

Oh, and speaking of Durant leaving, Russ hasn’t won a playoff series or even a road playoff game since KD left.

I know Russ has been dealing with an injury all year and that’s impacted his shot, but his shooting was so terrible, the Blazers were daring him to shoot. They were sagging off. They were telling each other, let him shoot.

That’s an insult. And it’s an incredible strategy. It’s a winning strategy. You can leave aside the “next question” theme that got so much attention in the playoffs. That’s a terrible look, but it’s not out of character for Russ. He’s always been like that. That’s nothing new.

What is new is the idea that the next question might be – what do you do with Russ? And maybe even worse, what is Russ?

He is a hell of a player, don’t get me wrong. But he was supposed to carry this team when KD left, but he hasn’t carried them anywhere. He has another superstar and Hall of Famer next to him and they’ve still been bounced in the first round in two straight years. And each year, he’s gotten caught up in a personal rivalry and he’s lost.

In the playoffs, star players have to play like stars. Damian Lillard did. Russell Westbrook did not.