LOS ANGELES — Still crazy, a bunch of people like to keep saying about Russell Westbrook, after all these years.
But two can play the Paul Simon game. Still talking crazy, I like to say, after all these years? Still talking crazy about Russell Westbrook?
Westbrook hasn’t changed in three years, Charles Barkley said on TNT’s post-game show Wednesday night, after an historic performance, Westbrook’s third triple double of these playoffs.
The Westbrook “experiment” is “getting close to being over,” Hall of Famer Reggie Miller said on the Dan Patrick Show this week, and that’s coming from one of Westbrook’s UCLA pals.
Aren’t we past this? Aren’t we past the idea that Westbrook isn’t an NBA point guard? Past the idea that Westbrook isn’t an elite point guard? Past the idea that somehow Westbrook and Kevin Durant aren’t two great tastes that go great together?
The Thunder heads to LA for Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, and the Clippers are wondering what to do about Westbrook just as much as they’re wondering what to do about Durant.
Westbrook struck the Clippers for 31 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 2, making 13 of 22 shots.
Durant countered with 32 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists, making nine of 19 shots. One small assist shy of teammates producing triple doubles, in a playoff showdown.
As is, it’s the first time in NBA history – more than 56,000 games – that teammates have both crossed the threshold of 30 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. This isn’t Batman and Robin. This is Batman and Batman.
Westbrook is no Festus Haggan or Barney Fife. Westbrook is no deputy. He’s Wyatt Earp himself, walking the streets of Dodge with Marshal Dillon.
And the people who need to know – the Thunder brass, Durant, Westbrook himself – do know.
“A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back, man, through it all,” Durant told Westbrook during the now-famous MVP ceremony Tuesday. “Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here. I love you. I thank you so much, man.”
Durant was just getting started. All those times critics say they’d be better apart? All those times Durant’s been told he needs a Robin, not a peer? All those times pundits wonder how Westbrook could take shots from Durant? Durant had an answer.
“You make me better,” he told Westbrook. “Your work ethic, I always want to compete with you. I always want to pull up in the parking lot of the arena, or the practice facility, and if you beat me there I was always upset. I always wanted to outwork you. You set the bar. You set the tone. Thank you so much, man. Thank you. You have a big piece of this. You’re an MVP-caliber player. It’s a blessing to play with you, man.”
That’s now flowery prose on an emotional day. Kenny Smith – the guy on the TNT set who actually follows the league – predicted Tuesday night that Westbrook will one day win an MVP himself. And the greatest praise, the most active members of the Westbrook Fan Club, comes from the guys charged with trying to stop him.
Memphis coach Dave Joerger: “I have no idea why he takes the flak that he takes. This man can play. He’s one of the most talented people in the league. It’s unfathomable.”
Clipper coach Doc Rivers: “Westbrook gets criticized a lot, but I don’t know why. The dude plays hard. He’s tough.”
Oh, Rivers knows why, and so does everyone else. Westbrook shoots a lot. Doesn’t always make point guard decisions straight out of the Hoosiers Handbook. Sometimes can get out of control.
Coaching Westbrook isn’t easy, as Scotty Brooks can attest. But neither was coaching Brett Favre. You think Mike Holmgren preferred Matt Hasselbeck?
Besides, hard to coach isn’t uncoachable. Barkley says Westbrook hasn’t changed in three years? Heck, he’s changed in the last four games.
After five games of the Memphis series, the Thunder offense was stuck on Mud Island. Too many 3-pointers. Not enough movement. A season on the brink.
Foreman Scotty gets credit for inserting Caron Butler into the starting lineup. Good move. Brooks, or someone, also reached Russ. Better move.
In the four games since then, Westbrook has been stellar. Averaging 28.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 8.8 assists. Shooting 56.1 percent. Made seven of 13 3-pointers. And best of all, Westbrook’s fury doesn’t subside, even when he’s playing under control.
Westbrook got lost on defense in Game 1 against the Clippers, but he was a phenomenal defensively in Game 2. And while the Clips’ Chris Paul remains the NBA’s premier point guard, Westbrook isn’t far behind. And think of it this way. Even if Paul plays good defense on Westbrook, sometimes that isn’t enough. CP3 can’t physically match up with Westbrook. I promise you, in this series, the Clippers are more clueless about how to stop Westbrook than they are about how to stop Durant.
Brooks doesn’t always know what he’s going to get from Westbrook. Except this: “I know I’m going to get a competitive Russ. He’s gonna give you everything he has. He’s not gonna make every shot, but he’s gonna compete.
“After the game, you’re gonna know you played against Russell, and I respect that in a big way, because I think that’s the way the game’s supposed to be played, with everything you have.”
Brooks even stepped out on faith, where he rarely trods, and admitted that Westbrook’s shot selection has been shaky at times. Admitted he’s not happy with 31 shots from his point guard, which Westbrook attempted in Memphis Game 5.
But Westbrook walks the streets of Dodge serious, every game. He’s a great player. An elite player. Westbrook is no sidekick. No complementary figure. And any talk otherwise is just crazy.