MIAMI — On the biggest stage of his basketball life, Russell Westbrook remains as defiant as ever.
Your opinions of him mean nothing. Your ideas on how he should conduct himself as the point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder don't matter, either.
“I'm not making no adjustments,” Westbrook stridently said Saturday.
He is who he is, for better or worse, whether you like it or not, and that's just how it is.
The NBA Finals won't change the Oklahoma City Thunder star.
And the truth is, it shouldn't.
The Thunder wouldn't be here without Russell Westbrook. More and more people are starting to recognize that.
But a small segment 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.
“That's what we've dealt with all season,” said Kendrick Perkins. “Russ is an attack-first point guard with a scorer's mentality. We got this far by him doing what he do.”
Game 2 was no different.
Only when the Thunder dropped a 100-96 decision to Miami inside Chesapeake Energy Arena, did it become a problem. It served as the same old story line that we've seen and heard throughout much of Westbrook's four seasons.
The easy narrative was Westbrook cost the Thunder the game.
By now, though, those who are still trumpeting that theme seem to be stuck in the simplistic world of sensationalism. It's sad but true.
“It kind of comes with it,” Perkins said. “They get a lot of the praise when we win, so the superstars are going to take a lot of the heat when we lose. It's not fair, but that's just what it is.”
Anyone with a basketball brain who watched the Thunder's Game 2 loss didn't see Westbrook taking ill-advised shots. They saw Westbrook trying to make plays for his team. Some seemed forced, for sure, especially early when Westbrook started 0-for-6. But the bulk of those stemmed from Kevin Durant's inability to shake free from LeBron James. In those moments, Westbrook had no choice but to take the shots.
Who else was going to?
“A lot of times, when we have bad possessions, he ends up having to take shots at the end (of the shot clock),” said Nick Collison. “He's trying to do what's best for the team.”
But when Westbrook headed into halftime 2-for-10 from the field, he got ripped to shreds for turning in “the worst performance by a point guard in NBA Finals history,” as Hall of Famer and Lakers legend Magic Johnson said during the ABC halftime show.
“We don't pay attention to that,” said Collison. “We don't pay attention to criticism. But what we do see when we watch bad possessions is how do we can get a better possession. A lot of times the cuts aren't hard enough, the screens aren't good enough. So that's a big key for us is to try to avoid those situations where him or anybody else have to take bad shots.”
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.”