Last night the Thunder beat the Mavericks in Dallas. It was the Mavericks’ first loss in 26 days, evening up the series at 1-1 and giving home-court advantage to Oklahoma City.
Star forward Kevin Durant starred, as he should. He outshone the not-Nazi-nicknamed Dirk Nowitzki, and everything was good, right? It depends who you ask.
The Buzz to Durant’s Woody, Russell Westbrook, didn’t play in the fourth quarter. That’s the All-Star Russell Westbrook who had a triple-double in the clinching game-seven against the Grizzlies last round. That’s the Russell Westbrook who was the second-best point guard in the NBA this year.
But that’s also the Russell Westbrook who doesn’t know when to hold off on the marshmallows. It’s the Russell Westbrook who doesn’t necessarily know when to pass. It’s the Russell Westbrook who can have nights like this. It’s the Russell Westbrook we’re not sure is ready to actually be a great point guard.
But it’s still Russell friggin’ Westbrook.
Point guard is such a complex position. To be a top player in the NBA, you need to have some kind of ego. You have to know you’re good, but, at the same time, playing point guard, you need to take pleasure in plays other than scoring. Outside of the millions of dollars pro basketball players make, the ones who care, they play the game because they get pleasure out of playing well, and doing specific things on the court. That’s why we all play sports, really. In the NBA, for a lot of players, the most pleasure comes from scoring. That’s what gets the most press, and that’s what directly leads to winning.
Scoring is the most obvious marker of a good basketball player. Yet, to be a great point guard, this needs to be secondary. Can you take pleasure out of making a pass that leads to a pass that leads to a basket? Can you be happy with getting a ball to the best scorer on your team, the better scorer than you? Can you do all these things, while still reconciling your personal desires? Is being brilliant at what your teams needs you to be brilliant at enough? Not every talented player has been able to balance his answers to those questions with his ego. And Westbrook hasn’t always had the right answers, either.
Last night, Royce Young tweeted:
It’s a shame people are going to make such a big deal about Westbrook sitting. It had a lot less to do with him than it did with the bench.
And yes, this is the type of story the mainstream media will magnify so intensely and so quickly, that it’ll get so big we won’t even recognize it for what it actually is. But it also seems like something that so much of the online world is actively trying to downplay, and that doesn’t really make any sense.
How can you say that this isn’t going to have some kind of effect? Russell Westbrook is human, and he probably thinks he’s one of the best players in the NBA. To sit out the entire fourth quarter of the biggest game of the season when your team, as Andrew Sharp pointed out, doesn’t even have the game sealed? That has to hurt a little bit.
This isn’t going to divide and destroy the OKC locker room. It shouldn’t. But right now, this is a big deal for Russell Westbrook. If it wasn’t, then Russell Westbrook wouldn’t be the player we think he is; he wouldn’t care enough. Watch how he reacted when he came out. He cares. It killed him to sit out.
The Thunder just beat the hottest team in the NBA without their second-best player playing for the entire fourth quarter. That is something. It could be a turning point in a number of different directions, or it could mean nothing. But the possibility is there, where it hasn’t been before.
—Photo AP/Charles Krupa