You can already see the headlines and the talk shows and the radio topics and the Twitter takes coming for Westbrook. The next 24 hours will be filled with, why didn’t he pass more? Is he selfish? Does he only care about his own stats?
While James Harden trusted his teammates to score down the stretch, Russell Westbrook did not. Since Westbrook shot 4-of-18 in the fourth quarter, the loss will be blamed on him. It’s a fair point, because if you miss 14 shots in the final quarter, you deserve blame. But it’s also not quite that simple.
Consider the end of the third quarter. When Westbrook went to the bench up 86-74 with two minutes left in the third quarter, the Rockets immediately closed the quarter on a 12-3 run. Consider the lineup he finished much of the fourth quarter with: Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, and Jerami Grant. Would you trust any of them with an open three? Roberson and Oladipo each missed wide open ones in the final five minutes.
Westbrook played a bad fourth quarter and settled for terrible shots as the clock winded down, and nobody can deny that. It’s incredible that a 51-point triple-double can be considered a bad game at this point, but anyone who takes 43 shots opens themselves up for this type of criticism. There will be a lot of takes over the next 24 hours about whether Westbrook was right, wrong, selfish, terrible, or only playing this game for himself. It’s also important to realize: to an extent, this is what the Thunder wanted.
Thunder head coach Billy Donovan could have opted for a more offensive-friendly approach, with Taj Gibson or Doug McDermott or Kyle Singler playing more minutes. But Oklahoma City knew that trying to outscore the Rockets, who had a historic offense this season, would never work. They chose to focus on defense, give Westbrook the ball, and hoped his brilliance could outplay everything