A nationwide buzz lingered Friday from Russell Westbrook's meltdown during the Thunder's 106-89 victory Thursday night against the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook was benched in the third quarter and became so upset he headed toward the locker room tunnel to calm himself. Westbrook quickly returned, started the fourth quarter and completed an otherwise positive performance that resulted in 21 points (9 for 17 from the field), nine rebounds and six assists.
Westbrook's tantrum transpired on national television and TNT initially reported erroneously Westbrook had become angry at teammate Kevin Durant. The incident actually began when Westbrook turned the ball over on an offensive five-second violation, which he blamed on teammate Thabo Sefolosha for drawing a defender closer to Westbrook.
Afterward, OKC coach Scott Brooks said the incident was behind his team, which already was looking ahead to Saturday's 6:30 p.m. road game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
Friday morning was business as usual for the Thunder, who had an optional, hour-long recovery session before departing on an afternoon charter flight to a wind chill of minus-7 degrees in Cleveland.
Because it was not a formal practice session, Brooks and his players were not made available for media.
OKC will return home immediately after playing the Cavs and will begin preparation for next week's three-game homestand against Dallas on Monday, Golden State on Wednesday and Phoenix on Friday.
Here are some reactions from national media on the Westbrook incident:
TNT analyst Kenny Smith: “The (team) chemistry is fragile. I hate to walk around the locker room on eggshells when a guy does something like this. Now you can't act natural around this guy for a couple days, and that really messes your team's morale up.”
TNT analyst Shaquille O'Neal: “Westbrook is one of the leaders of the team. In order to be a great leader, you have to be a great listener. He messed up. … He's wrong. He knows he's wrong. You move on.”
TNT analyst Charles Barkley: “See, I don't think he knows he's wrong. He wouldn't have been acting like that. Listen, (Thunder assistant coach) Maurice Cheeks and my man, Scott Brooks, (have) got to handle this. This has been going on for years now, but now they're an elite team. It's championship or bust. This is like the third year in a row we've said that. … At some point, Scott and Maurice have to say (to Westbrook), ‘Hey, dude. You've either got to grow up, or we can't win a championship.' When you have blowups like this, they only show up under pressure in big situations. … This thing is going to show its ugly head deep in the playoffs. They've got to handle this.”
ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith: “I believe that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook together will ultimately win multiple titles, but what I saw last night has me ruling them out of winning the title this year, because you are going to go up against more seasoned individuals who know how to play together, know how to talk and communicate with one another and know how not to overreact.
“I love Russell Westbrook. I really do, but I really, really saw a kid last night. I didn't see a young man, and that's what I'm concerned about.”
Oklahoma City native and ESPN commentator Skip Bayless: “Love Kevin Durant, my favorite player, hate it that he's forced to play with Russell Westbrook. … Really scares me for Kevin Durant's sake, long term. … Not only did he (Westbrook) blow his cool, but he blew his team's psyche and they nearly blew a lead to a Memphis that was in post-Rudy Gay disarray last night.
“That is 100 percent selfish. That's all about Westbrook's out-of-control ego. … Memphis went on a 25-10 run because of Russell Westbrook's tantrum. That will get you. At some point, it's going to get them. In the Western Conference playoffs, it will get them.”