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Russell Westbrook is the reason Thunder still has hope

by Jenni Carlson Modified: May 22, 2011 at 12:56 am •  Published: May 22, 2011

It's ridiculous, frankly. No NBA player is perfect, but for whatever reason, Westbrook has become the guy who has every action scrutinized. Every play. Every reaction. Every expression.

So when Thunder coach Scott Brooks substituted for Westbrook after a turnover late in the third quarter of Game 3 and the two exchanged words, pundits' heads started spinning. Those noggins almost exploded when Brooks decided to stick with all of his reserves plus Kevin Durant throughout the fourth quarter.

Nevermind that OKC won the game.

Oh, and the fact that Westbrook had been darn good through the first three quarters? Forget that, too, apparently.

But here's something that was oh-so obvious Saturday night — the Thunder would've lost by 40 points if not for Westbrook.

He scored 30 points, and while some might want to lambast him for taking 20 shots or committing seven turnovers, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he was getting to the rim and there was nothing that the Mavericks could do to stop him.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said that his team played championship-caliber defense for the first time in the series.

Yet, he has to be scared of what he saw from Westbrook in the fourth quarter.

The guy showed in Game 1 that he could get to the rim against the Mavs, but he just couldn't finish anything. He had alligator arms — everything was coming up short.

Still, you figured he'd eventually start capitalizing against the Mavs.

Eventually came Saturday night.

“I was just trying to be aggressive,” Westbrook said. “Just try to play the same way I've been playing all year long.”

Truth is, the way he has handled the critics has been admirable. A lesser guy would've cracked long ago.

“It just shows his personality,” Sefolosha said. “The whole team's behind him no matter what.”

Keep playing the way he played Saturday night, and Westbrook won't just have his teammates behind him. He'll have them on his shoulders.