Friday morning was business as usual for the Thunder. Thursday night’s 106-89 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies at Chesapeake Energy Arena was in the rear-view mirror as players went through an optional, hour-long recovery session before departing on an afternoon charter flight to a wind chill of minus-7 degrees in Cleveland.
OKC will play the Cavaliers at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Quicken Loans Arena and return home immediately to prep for a three-game homestand against Dallas on Monday, Golden State on Wednesday and Phoenix next Friday.
Meanwhile, a nationwide buzz lingered from Russell Westbrook’s meltdown in the third quarter during which he was benched and became so upset he headed toward the locker room tunnel to calm himself. Westbrook soon returned, started the fourth quarter and otherwise had a superb night with 21 points (9 for 17 from the field), nine rebounds and six assists.
Making matters worse, Westbrook’s tantrum transpired on national TV. At first, TNT erroneously reported Westbrook had become angry at teammate Kevin Durant. The incident actually began when Westbrook turned the ball over on an offensive five-second call, which he blamed on teammate Thabo Sefolosha.
Afterward in the Thunder locker room, TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager questioned Westbrook about what transpired, which you can see here:
Sager: “What got you so upset?”
Westbrook: “Nothing, just a little miscommunication.”
Sager: “Between you and Thabo?”
Westbrook: “Uh-huh, just miscommunication.”
Sager: “I know that happens once in a while and all’s well that ends well, but at times do you think you need to control your temper more?”
Westbrook: “I control it like a man, like I did.”
Sager: “What’s that mean?”
Westbrook: (No response)
Sager: “Put it behind you and go ahead and win?”
Westbrook: “If that’s what you say, bruh.”
The interview aired around 12:40 a.m., after which there was this exchange among analysts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal:
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.”
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.”
Barkley: “See, I don’t think he knows he’s wrong. He wouldn’t have been acting like that. Listen, 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 blow-ups 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.”
- John Rohde