The bad Russell Westbrook showed up Tuesday night in the Thunder’s inexcusable 104-103 loss to the depleted Houston Rockets.
Not the Westbrook who can be careless with the ball. A backup point guard from Slovenia stole the ball twice from Westbrook in the final 65 seconds, but this is the NBA. Those things happen.
Not the Westbrook who can take ill-advised shots. After Westbrook’s floater gave the Thunder a 93-89 lead with 6:05 left, Westbrook took only one more shot, a 10-footer with 1:56 left as the shot clock was about to expire with the Thunder up nine points.
But the bad Westbrook who failed to understand time and place, and apparently still hasn’t learned, was center stage. Westbrook’s competitive zeal, which has made him an NBA superstar, went all Mr. Hyde at the worst of times.
Weary from game-long clashes with Goran Dragic, Westbrook lost his cool with 48 seconds left in the game.
Up four points and having just tumbled to the ground courtesy of a Dragic foul, Westbrook sprang to his feet as if told his mother wears combat boots.
Westbrook barked at and moved toward Dragic, held back only by Rockets guard Courtney Lee.
Technical foul. A free point, on Lee’s foul shot. A sip of water to a team about to die of thirst.
Check the final score. The Rockets won by a solitary point.
Just when you think Westbrook is the complete package, just when you think Westbrook is a superstar not just in body but in mind, just when you think the Thunder is blossoming into a mature NBA contender, Westbrook decides to play Macho Man in the final minute of a tight game.
What was he thinking? Who knows? Westbrook refused to answer when asked about the technical, standing there with a wry smile and a stone face.
That’s the kind of stoicism the Thunder needed in the last minute. In the locker room after a loss to a team missing its starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, some accountability would have been in order.
Apparently, that, too, will have to wait.
“It’s a long season,” said Thunder veteran Nazr Mohammed. “There’s ups, there’s downs.”
This is most definitely a down. This game and this stretch. The Thunder finished a five-game homestand 3-2 but played poorly in every game except against the hapless Bobcats. And this giveaway game ranks with the worst losses of the season.
“It’s a tough one,” said Kevin Durant. “It hurts because we lost at home.”
It hurts because the Thunder defense collapsed — just one stop in the final six Rocket possessions. It hurts because the Thunder offense stagnated — one point in the final 2:29.
But it hurts most because the Thunder’s floor leader let pride and emotion rule the day.
Pride and emotion are Westbrook’s fuel. That’s how he became a two-time all-star by age 23. That’s why the Thunder backed up the Brinks truck for an $80-million Westbrook contract.
But in the final minutes of tight games, prudence must replace pride. Wisdom has to trump emotion. At least on teams serious about NBA contention.
Ironically, Westbrook played well for 47 minutes. He didn’t shoot it well — 7-of-18 — but he played well. Zero turnovers until those fateful final two. And it wasn’t like Dragic was smoking hot; Lowry’s backup had 12 points, seven assists and five turnovers.
But in the final 65 seconds, the Rockets got desperate, Dragic turned on the defensive aggression, Westbrook failed to get a couple of whistles and when he did, he snapped.
The Thunder likes to talk about lessons learned. But future Thunder foes learned a lesson Tuesday night. Get in Westbrook’s head, hang around and he just might hand you the game.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.