Russell Westbrook’s record performance means little to him after losing
‘I don’t give a f— about my scoring line. We lost the game.’
Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon had help on his way to two NBA championships. “The Dream” had talented teammates such as Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, Otis Thorpe, Kenny Smith, Sam Cassell, Mario Elie and Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry aiding him. And while Olajuwon did offer respect to Russell Westbrook on his record 51-point, triple-double playoff performance, the greatest Rockets player ever made a critical note of what he saw Tuesday night, too.
“With his poise and control, his game is on a whole different level. He’s a tremendous talent, but as far as the game, he was trying to do too much,” Olajuwon told The Undefeated.
While the statistics were eye-popping, Westbrook did not have a dream game, as the Thunder remained winless in the first-round playoff series against the Rockets with a 115-111 loss in Game 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
Westbrook, who set an NBA record for triple-doubles during the regular-season, had a playoff career-high 51 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. The six-time NBA All-Star attempted 43 field goals, missing 26, and missed nine of 11 3-pointers. Westbrook also nailed 15 free throws, grabbed four steals, blocked a shot and had four turnovers.
When asked by The Undefeated about his scoring line, Westbrook said, “I don’t give a f— about my scoring line. We lost the game.”
Westbrook accounted for the first 50-point triple-double in NBA history. However, his 43 field-goal attempts tied for the second most in a playoff game over the past 30 years. He missed 14 of 18 field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter, while his teammates missed eight of 11 field-goal attempts and all five free throws.
“I’ve got to do a better job of finding my guys and trusting in them, especially when things aren’t going our way late in games,” Westbrook said.
For the Thunder in this young playoff series against the Rockets and for much of the regular season, it has been Russell versus Everybody. But is that his fault, or is he just trying to survive in his environment?
The Thunder are reminded nightly how painful it was to lose 2014 NBA MVP Kevin Durant as a free agent to the rival Golden State Warriors. As talented an offensive player as Westbrook is, Durant was the No. 1 option during their eight seasons together. Often forgotten is that the Thunder also traded away free-agent-to-be power forward Serge Ibaka last offseason. Ibaka was to Durant and Westbrook what Horace Grant was to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen.
So who is the Thunder’s co-star for Westbrook now? The Cockroach to Theo? The Robin to Batman? The Pepa to Salt? Westbrook’s co-star is supposed to be Victor Oladipo, who has been a major disappointment so far in the playoffs.
The Thunder traded Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Oladipo, forward Ersan Ilyasova and newly drafted forward Domantas Sabonis. The Thunder tweaked its roster in hopes of appealing to Durant, with Oladipo becoming the third scoring star they sorely missed since the departure of James Harden to the Rockets via trade in 2012.
Oladipo averaged 16 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists for the Magic during the 2015-16 season. Durant hung out in Los Angeles with Westbrook and Oladipo after the trade, a source said, but that didn’t keep him from joining the mighty Warriors shortly afterward.
Oladipo averaged 15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.6 assists this season. So far in the playoffs he has been awful as the Thunder’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 8.5 points on 19.2 percent shooting while missing 12 of 13 3-pointer attempts. Oladipo said he wasn’t putting pressure on himself because it would just “make matters worse” and that Westbrook “needs help out there.”
“I’ve got to go figure it out, man,” Oladipo said. “It’s as simple as that. Figure out ways to take the pressure of him and everybody else.”
Oklahoma City’s second-leading playoff scorer is defensive specialist Andre Roberson, who is averaging 15 points. Regarding Westbrook’s Game 2, Roberson said, “It was a great performance, but it doesn’t mean anything if we lose. We all have to look at ourselves, re-evaluate, go back to the drawing board and see what we can do better the next game.”
Improving in the fourth quarter would help Westbrook and the Thunder. The Thunder had an 86-74 lead when Westbrook came out for a breather with 2:21 left in the third quarter. By the end of the third, Oklahoma City was only up 89-86 as Westbrook helplessly watched. Westbrook played the entire fourth quarter.
“He got tired in the fourth quarter,” Olajuwon said.
Westbrook said he wasn’t fatigued in the fourth. The Undefeated also asked Westbrook whether he felt he had help offensively when needed or he must rely on himself.
“I trust my teammates all the time, regardless to what we have going on. I always trust in my guys,” Westbrook answered. “They trust me to make plays, and that’s what we’ve been doing since the start of the season. And I’m always going to do that.”
As for Harden, he certainly has good reason to have confidence in his sharpshooting teammates.
The other top NBA MVP candidate scored an efficient 35 points on 7-of-17 shooting, 18 made free throws and eight assists. The Rockets have two NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidates in Eric Gordon and Lou Williams, who combined for 43 points and six made 3-pointers off the bench. Guard Patrick Beverley chipped in 15 points. Ryan Anderson had a bad night, but he is a 3-point specialist.
“All year long we had trust in these guys,” Harden said. “Obviously we had Eric, and then you know we added Lou and that made it more important for us to make sure that our bench and guys that are effective and can score the ball get opportunities, so that’s kind of been my mindset. And you know, those guys stepped up big. Lou and Eric made some big shots, so we’re going to need those guys to play well in order to get where we want to go.”
Olajuwon wasn’t always a team guy, as the Houston Chronicle described in a 2014 article: “. . . unable or unwilling to trust his teammates, he became the center around whom everything orbited. Once combative and defiant on the court and in practices.” But after becoming a “peaceful, gentlemanly icon dispensing wisdom,” according to the paper, the Nigerian won an NBA championship and became the only player ever to be the MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and Finals MVP in the same season in 1994.
After Russell vs. Everybody didn’t work in the first two games, perhaps his best bet to keep the series alive would be to follow in Olajuwon’s footsteps by truly trusting his teammates.
“It was a tough loss [for Westbrook], but it was a great game, Olajuwon said.