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USA Today Sports
Russell Westbrook is the gasoline that stokes the hot, hot flames of debate — ignoring for a moment that this in itself is served on a piping hot plate of scalding narrative art. The enigmatic point guard can no do wrong amongst some, and no right amongst others. Let Westbrook Be Westbrook is as much accurate as the Make Better Decisions Or Not Real Point Guard faction of the intelligentsia.
Forget that he drained a huge three, capped by a steal and power dunk in less than a minute, all coming in the later stages of crunch time. Forget that Tony Allen actually denied the ball to Kevin Durant and Durant himself was content to watch Wesbrook hoist up a long three with the shot clock ticking down. Forget that the Memphis Grizzlies coach, Dave Joerger, made an in-game adjustment by going small that flummoxed Scott Brooks to no end.
But let’s wipe all that out for a moment and rehash preconceived notions because, like another sky-high vicious dunk, Westbrook’s ability to capture the focus and scope of a game is unparalleled.
Kevin Durant floated a three with his bottom directly parallel to the hardwood, arm nearer to the ground than to his head. Kendrick Perkins made not only a single field goal but one to tie the game in regulation at the buzzer! Beno Udrih did stuff! Mike Miller does not miss. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol never lost composure, not even when everything around them was blowing up and cascading wreckage was falling at the feet of their regular season dreams.
Forget all that. Russell Westbrook shot a couple contested jumpers with the game on the line.
The 2-7 matchup was always a dangerous one for the Thunder. With Coach Joerger stumbling onto a smaller lineup that can ostensibly give them fits, and Tony Allen’s Patrick Beverley-on-elite-point-guard ability to annoy the living hell out of Durant, this is suddenly a much more fascinating series to mull over. The Grizzlies sparked their comeback with Randolph staring from the bench, and Gasol dropping laser passes left and right, and the Grizzlies attacking the seams that open up without a clogging post-up player perched there. All that glosses over with the same tired result of a Westbrook crunch time minute.
Both sides are right. Perhaps Westbrook shouldn’t jack up jumpers with hands in his face with 20 seconds left on the shot clock. And, sometimes, maybe Westbrook should keep doing his hang-in-the-air-longer-than-the-world before elongating his arms for a pull-up from 18 because, well, who else is going to shoot? For all that Oklahoma City is — NBA Finals contender and everything else — the offense revolves solely around the ability of Westbrook and Durant to control the tempo, shot selection, and narrative. And it works.
There were many things that went wrong for the Thunder. There were also many things that went right. Just not enough. But today until forever, it’s going to be all about Russell Westbrook. For better and much, much worse.