(1) No lead is safe/bench woes
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Thunder outscored the Rockets when Russell Westbrook was on the floor, but lost the game when he rested.
Westbrook finished at +14 in his 39 minutes, but the bench was a -40 and again looked completely lost against the Houston offense. Norris Cole was -18 in his 9 minutes, Enes Kanter was a -9 in his 8 minutes, and Jerami Grant — the only reserve I was pleased with — made an absolutely awful basketball decision in giving up an and-1 to Nene late in the game. It was that kind of day for the bench.
Westbrook has no interest in discussing his fellow teammates (more on that later), but it’s painfully obvious what happens to this team when he heads to the bench. The Thunder reserves were outscored by a 42 point margin (64-22) and was outscored by Nene alone — 28-22. We all know this needs to change, but I wouldn’t expect it this season.
(2) Russ was spectacular, but..
Russell Westbrook recorded his third consecutive triple-double, becoming the only player to do so in the playoffs outside of Wilt Chamberlain. He accomplished this feat in the first half, giving him the fastest playoff triple-double of all time.
He finished the day with 35 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists, 3 steals and a block, and his 5 turnovers are certainly something you can live with. He shot 10/28 from the field, 3/8 from deep and 12/13 from the line — a +14 at the end of the day.
Westbrook was again the Thunder’s heart and soul, and he doesn’t deserve much criticism for Game 4. But a few of those final three-point heaves were rushed, ill-advised and unfitting of such an effort to that point in the game. Maybe he’ll never clean that up — which I can accept — but it does leave you wanting more. Maybe some day.
(3) Steven Adams showed up
There have been many complaints about Steven Adams this season/series, but he was sublime in Game 4. He pitched in 18 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and a steal, finishing at +5 and playing his most inspired basketball of the series.
His arrival may be too little, too late with the Thunder down 1-3, but it was nice to see Big Kiwi show up on the big stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s been playing through injury, but for at least one game we got a glimpse of what so many of us expected from him.
Also — this was awesome:
(4) The Roberson Paradox
Andre Roberson is so good. He’s also really not.
That’s the issue.
Roberson held James Harden to 16 points on 5/16 shooting, with The Beard turning the ball over 7 times. Harden finished at +0 in his 39 minutes, essentially being canceled out by the Thunder’s defensive ace. Roberson also pitched in 12 points on 5/9 from the field, along with 5 blocks and 2 steals. It was a masterful performance in many ways.
But…you know…the free throws.
The Rockets employed a Hack-a-Dre strategy in the second half, and Roberson completely fell apart at the charity stripe. He went a miserable 2/12 from the line, and even though it didn’t exactly lose the game for OKC, it certainly drained the Thunder of all momentum. The Rockets bench went as far as to mock and laugh from the sideline.
So, yeah. Not great. I have no earthly idea how an NBA player could shoot this poorly from the free throw line, as his 2/17 in the series has him at a blistering .118%. My mind won’t wrap around it.
But in all fairness, this has always been the issue with Roberson. Maybe not the free throws specifically, but the arrangement you make in playing Dre is sacrificing any sort of shooting ability for his other-worldly defense. It’s awfully frustrating at times, but that’s the deal.
In the end — I’d take it all over again, as the defense/energy Dre brought yesterday was worthy of recognition. I’d love for the free throw thing to change, but the pros outweighed the cons for Roberson in Game 4. Someone other than Harden was forced to beat OKC. All is forgiven.
(5) About that post-game press conference
As the world knows, Russell Westbrook made news in his post-game press conference. Add another chapter to the Russ .vs. Berry Tramel saga.
It seems like the Thunder community is fairly split on how we feel about this. Some think it’s rude and unprofessional. Others see it as loyalty to his team/teammates. I don’t know if there’s necessarily a right or wrong way to view it.
But with his team down 1-3 and under constant fire from a “Russell’s teammates are terrible” standpoint, I have no issue with Westbrook in this scenario. As in most cases with his media dealings, it certainly could have benefited from more restraint — after all, it was a fair question — but I believe his heart is in the right place.
If the goal is to keep his guys together in the face of elimination, it’s hard to knock him for that. As the leader of the team, that’s really what we want from him, no? He’s never going to win any awards for his media relations, but the reaction he received for the comments are a bit overblown for me.
Game 5: Thunder @ Rockets / Tomorrow 7PM CT / TNT