Russell Westbrook took 33 shots Monday night in the Memphis Marathon. Kevin Durant took 20.
You know what that means. Here we go again.
Why does Westbrook shoot so much? Why does he crave the spotlight? Why does he feel like he has to be the man?
Crazed fans, we can forgive. But NBA veterans, from the likes of Chuck Barkley and Kenny Smith and Mike Fratello? Busting Westbrook even after he was the central hero in one of the most thrilling games in NBA history? Wondering why Durant wasn't getting more shots than was his point guard.
Are they not watching the games?
To quote Strother Martin in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", “Morons. I've got morons on my team.”
The Thunder has regained control of this rousing Western Conference semifinal against Memphis, armed again with homecourt advantage in a 2-2 series.
And Westbrook is the No. 1 reason. The Thunder has a favorable mismatch with Westbrook. It does not have such an edge with Durant.
Did you notice Durant standing free on the wing Monday night, waving for the ball?
Neither did I. Durant wasn't open. Hasn't been open much in this series, courtesy of hound dogs Shane Battier and Tony Allen. There are maybe 10 defenders in the league who can frustrate Durant, and the Grizzlies have two of them.
Durant still has played wonderfully. Averaged 29 points and shot 45.8 percent. But nothing comes easy, not with Battier and Allen on the case.
Meanwhile, Memphis has no answer for Westbrook. Mike Conley is game but overmatched. O.J. Mayo is athletic but not always fundamental. Greivis Vasquez doesn't have a prayer.
“When Russell has a good matchup, I want him to attack,” Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said.
That was the difference between Games 3 and 4. In Game 3, the Thunder offense stagnated, with lots of Westbrook dribbling beyond the arc. I think he was trying too hard to get Durant involved in the offense. Trying too hard to satisfy the demands of those who think 21st-century NBA point guards should have names like Sparky Grober, wear tube socks to their knees and attempt a shot about once a week.
In Game 4, Durant was no more open than in Game 3, when he made 10 of 24 shots. But in Game 4, Westbrook said, sorry, Sparky, and went to the basket.
Attacked. Attacked. Attacked. Attacked so much, he got both Conley and Mayo in foul trouble; both fouled out late in the first overtime. Westbrook kept attacking throughout all three overtimes, and by game's end still was running around like a pogo stick while everyone else on the court was gassed.
Frankly, if Durant wants more shots, he need not look at Westbrook. He need look in the mirror.
Westbrook hasn't been ignoring Durant. Hasn't been derelict in his point-guard duties. Hasn't passed up passes to the two-time NBA scoring champ.
If Durant wants more shots in this series, he's going to have to work harder. Battier and Allen aren't going to let loose of their grip. Aren't going to give him six inches of space.
Last round with Denver? Next round with Dallas, should the Thunder advance? Maybe the game eases for Durant. No Battier, no Allen.
But Memphis has the Durant antidote, which can lead to Durant being a mere decoy. That's not all bad. Brooks said the Grizzlies' commitment to stopping Durant can create mini-fast breaks on the backside.
That's because the Thunder has Westbrook. Butch to Durant's Sundance Kid.
“Russell's fearless,” Brooks said. “That's what it takes to be a special player in this league. He has a big heart. He displays that every game.”
I love that tribute. Fearless. Of all the attributes of an NBA star, I can't think of higher praise.
“He's always there,” Brooks said. “He's always fighting. He's always competing.”
So why such criticism? Why such scrutiny, for some third-year point guard in little ol' Oklahoma City? Westbrook's not a Laker. Westbrook's not a Celtic.
“Because he's good,” Brooks said. “If he wasn't good, no one would be talking about him. Part of being good, you have to handle criticism. You have to handle the accolades.”
It goes with the point guard territory. It's a lonely world. Westbrook must make a ton of decisions on a very good team. That's a lot of opportunity for surveillance.
Apparently, that will be Westbrook's cross to bear.
The fearless Butch Cassidy is up to the task.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.