After averaging a triple-double during the regular season, Westbrook is finding himself a victim of his own success
THUNDERSTRUCK. With the Thunder down 0-2 in the first round, it’s Westbrook’s fault that he was too good for his own good. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images/AFP
Russell Westbrook is too good for his own good.
After leading the team the entire Game 2, the leading Most Valuable Player candidate gassed out near the end and watched the OKC Thunder’s lead evaporate to a 115-111 victory for the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, April 19 (Thursday Manila time). James Harden and his shot-happy crew now have a commanding 2-0 lead in the first round series.
Despite the brutal loss, Westbrook made his mark with a 51-point, 10-rebound and 13-assist triple-double. He now owns the record for most points scored in a triple-double in NBA playoff history.
Of course, this is nothing new for the Thunder megastar, who wowed crowds all season long by recording 42 triple-doubles in 82 games, surpassing a 55-year old record of 41 by Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson. He and Robertson are now the only two players in NBA history to average a triple-double.
The 78-year old legend himself gave his approval of Westbrook in a special ceremony at the Thunder’s final home game of the season and endorsed him to be the 2016-2017 MVP.
Most Valuable Player.
The real criteria needed to win the award has been hotly debated all season long, since players such as Westbrook, Harden, LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard all poured in historical numbers that translated to team success. However, Westbrook’s case gained serious momentum after triple-doubles became routine for him.
The numbers at face value are valid and downright absurd. In comparison, during Lance Stephenson’s last stint with Indiana in 2011, he led the league in triple-doubles with a now-preposterously low five. Fast forward in 2017, the Thunder racked up 33 wins and just 9 losses when Westbrook racked up a trip-dub.
Now they are down 0-2 in the first round, and it’s Westbrook’s fault. It’s his fault that he was too good.
All season long, their hulking big men stepped clear to let Westbrook corral rebounds and burst out to a fast break and a considerable lead in uncontested rebounds.
Their perimeter players camped at the three-point line to let Westbrook destroy opponents in one-on-one isolation plays as they stood ready to receive a dump-off pass for his assists. This has led to an also considerable lead in usage rate, standing at 41.7%, meaning his 14 other teammates collectively rounded up the remaining 58.3%.
Because of this singular, win-producing offensive prowess, the rest of the team rode along as assist dummies who grew comforted at the fact that they can rely on their leader every single game. In the only game this season that Westbrook did not play in, the Thunder won by merely two points against the cellar-dwelling Minnesota Timberwolves.
All this time, OKC’s young guns simply did not get enough chances to develop their skills and test their mettle in crunch time. In a shooting slump? Give it to Russ. Down by 10 with 3 minutes left? Give it to Russ. Like a well-oiled power tool, Westbrook delivered every time.
All of these habits came full circle in Game 2, as Westbrook shot 18 times in the fourth quarter alone and converted just 4. With every failed Westbrook isolation play, the Rockets ran team basketball and won the game. The final 11 points were not scored by Harden, who was blocked twice and had 3 turnovers in the same span. His teammates were ready to help. #RunAsOne, the Rockets slogan said, and run as one they did.
As for Westbrook, he can carry his 50-point triple-double back to Oklahoma City and get ready to do the exact same things, because that’s all the Thunder can do at this point.