Criticism of Russell Westbrook taught Thunder a lesson

by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 5, 2011

If he was aggressive, critics said he was shooting too much. If he fell back and played more like a playmaker, they said he was too passive and was hurting his team.

Russell Westbrook couldn't win during the Thunder's postseason run, even while his team was winning plenty.

Everything, from the point guard's body language on the bench to how he handled the team's final defeat of the season, was overanalyzed.

“It's kind of crazy how the last two series happened with all the stuff he had to go through,” said forward Nick Collison. “It kind of hit everybody by surprise because, for us, it didn't seem like anything was different. We love Russell, and we love what he brings. And we realize without him this year we wouldn't be a playoff team. We wouldn't be anywhere near as good as we are.”

The criticism Westbrook experienced could have torn apart the Thunder. Instead, it brought the team closer together. And when it was all over, the Thunder had received an unexpected but valuable crash course in how to cope with scrutiny during a deep playoff run.

“For all of us, we can't listen to what's going on outside our locker room,” Collison said. “We know what's real and we know what's going on, and I think it was good for us to see that that stuff doesn't matter.”

Because of the incessant backlash, many observers have wondered where Westbrook's state of mind is. It's a completely understandable concern considering Westbrook is still only 22 and had never faced as much scrutiny as he did throughout April and May. But if the criticism had any lingering effects, you certainly couldn't tell when he faced the cameras. Westbrook handled it all with an almost shocking amount of poise and positivity.

“Regardless of what I do, it doesn't matter. I can't do no right. So I just go out and play,” Westbrook said a day after Game 2 against Dallas, when he didn't play in the fourth quarter and had to watch four reserves and Kevin Durant lead the Thunder to victory.

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