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NBA Finals: How Thunder-Heat became another referendum on Russell Westbrook

A small segment of people can't get over how Westbrook is not a “traditional” point guard. They can't look past how he looks for his own shot nearly as much as he does the reigning three-time scoring champ in Kevin Durant.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: June 16, 2012

The untold story of Westbrook's erratic nature is the Thunder's unbalanced starting unit. Each night, Oklahoma City trots out three defensive-minded players in Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Perkins. None have a single offensive move that must consistently be respected by defenders.

That puts an enormous amount of pressure on Durant and Westbrook. And when Durant can't shake free like we saw in Game 2, Westbrook is left to take matters into his own hands.

The Thunder's starting lineup has been woefully bad in this series, producing a minus-18 in the plus-minus category. Yet Westbrook has managed to find a way to still be effective despite slow starts and imperfect units.

He scored 27 points with eight rebounds and 11 assists in Game 1. He netted 27 points with eight rebounds and seven assists in Game 2.

“I'll take that stat line,” said Heat forward Shane Battier, whose mere 17 points in each of the first two games have been made out to be extraordinary. “He should have been born before the Twitter age. That's all I can say. That's the only explanation (for the criticism). He's so talented, man. What he has you just can't teach.”

Westbrook has done something that Chris Paul and Deron Williams and Derrick Rose and other top flight point guards have never done. That's help lead his team to the NBA Finals. Still, for whatever reason, Westbrook remains a lightning rod for criticism.

“It's not fair, but that's just what it is,” Perkins said. “We just got to make sure we stick together. We lose as a team. We know that. It's not one person's fault or two people's fault. Same as when we win. We win as a team. But that's just what it is.”

Perkins said the team hasn't had to talk to Westbrook about the mounting backlash.

“He knows we're in his corner, and he's pretty good at bouncing back and doing the things he needs to do the next game,” Perkins said.

With his teammates in his corner, Westbrook can — and perhaps should — remain defiant. If nobody else in the world realizes it, those in the Thunder circle know that without Westbrook the team wouldn't even be in this position.

“Russell is an aggressive player,” coach Scott Brooks said. “We need Russell to score. I know some of you don't like that. But Russell is a very, very gifted and talented player and we would not be in this position without Russell Westbrook.”

by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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