The most confounding player in the NBA might have just played his most confounding game.
Russell Westbrook wasn’t a factor in last year’s Thunder-Grizzlies series. Didn’t play because of injury. So this time around, he’s making up for lost time.
And that’s been both good and bad for the Thunder – depending on the possession.
During OKC’s heartbreaking 100-99 Game 5 overtime loss to the Grizzlies on Tuesday night, Westbrook, at times, kept the Thunder in it.
He finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists, the first triple-double of this wild postseason. He whirled in for some crucial layups, had 11 huge assists in the second half, including some nifty ones in overtime, and temporarily saved the Thunder with a steal and dunk to tie it with four seconds left in regulation.
There was a lot of good. But there was also plenty of bad.
For those 30 points, Westbrook needed 31 shots – seven more than Kevin Durant and 14 more than any player on the Grizzlies. And many of those were early-in-the-clock, contested, off-balance jumpers. Low-percentage looks, which included far too many threes for a guy who’s a career 30 percent 3-point shooter.
He was 1-of-7 from deep on Tuesday night and now 7-of-38 in the series. Both he and Durant continue to call them “good looks”, but the percentages and eyes say otherwise.
“Yeah,” Westbrook said when asked if he likes that shot. “I can get better ones. But sometimes you just gotta attack, regardless of what’s going on or time of the game. You gotta stay in attack mode. They give me a 15-footer, I make that nine times out of 10.”
But Westbrook’s Jekyll and Hyde act wasn’t limited to offense. The final two minutes of regulation are maybe the greatest example of that.
He had that aforementioned steal and dunk, deftly picking Mike Conley at the top of the key and sending the game to overtime.
But a few minutes before that, Westbrook gave up two of the Grizzlies’ biggest shots of the game. He lost Conley on a well-designed pick play by Memphis and then olé’d on a Conley drive moments later. Four easy, quick and crucial Memphis points.
“Russell plays the way he plays,” Conley said. “He plays that aggressive style of basketball. That’s just him, not anything we’re doing.”
Westbrook is a high-stakes gambler on both ends. He can dominate the opposing team, breaking their will and winning it on his own. Or he can accidently sabotage the Thunder’s chances, firing up wild shots and making all kinds of questionable decisions.
On Wednesday night, he went with all the above.
Westbrook was maybe the biggest reason OKC remained in the game, keying a wild comeback with his aggression, never-say-die attitude and elite playmaking.
But his shot selection and defensive lapses were a pair of key reasons the Thunder eventually lost.
Welcome to the world of Russell Westbrook. Both good and bad, rest assured, he’s gonna make an impact.