It's time for Russell Westbrook to play some defense

The plot demands that Westbrook play the big-time defense of which he’s capable. A point guard this strong and this quick and this driven and this, well, mean, ought to be able to neutralize inferior athletes. Which the crafty Mike Conley is.
by Berry Tramel Modified: April 23, 2014 at 9:20 pm •  Published: April 23, 2014

That’s six minutes Caron Butler had to sit the bench, and against this Memphis defense, the Thunder needs its scorers to play every minute possible.

Westbrook actually was in a rare reflective mood Wednesday. He said his competitiveness comes naturally. “It’s just how I play,” Westbrook said. “I only know one way. That got me to the position I am now, and I’m not about to stop. That’s just how I am. That’s part of my nature. That’s how I play.”

But that has to include defense, and though Westbrook didn’t confess that he’s been lax, he did admit to the value of guarding the foe.

“If you want to be a great player in this league, you’ve got to play both sides of the floor,” Westbrook said. “You can’t just be a competitor on offense, then run around on defense and not help your team out. There’s times you’re gong to get scored on. There’s times you’re going to get beat back cut. You’re not perfect. But you gotta compete. Take charges, block shots, rebound. Do whatever you can to help your team win.”

Westbrook does that a lot. But he occasionally gets lost, either in assignment or focus or just wondering how quickly he can get back to the other end of the court and roust out the moneychangers.

Simply put, the Thunder allowed the Grizzlies in Game 2 to be the aggressor, and while that’s difficult to do against a team quarterbacked by Westbrook, Memphis did it.

“The team that loses the first game is always going to come out and be more aggressive, play harder, play tougher,” said Derek Fisher, who knows a thing or two about playoff basketball, since he’s scheduled to break the NBA record for playoff games next Tuesday in Oklahoma City. “We didn’t do as good a job at keeping the ball in front of us.”

Now it’s Westbrook’s turn to be the Aggression King. But that doesn’t mean just pushing the ball on offense and attacking the lane. That means getting in Conley’s grill the way Tony Allen has latched himself onto Kevin Durant. That means remembering that ship on his shoulder on both ends of the court. That means taking it personal, even when Memphis has the ball.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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