Both of these statements can be true:
1) Russell Westbrook was a selfish ball hog in the 4th quarter of Game 2 in Houston, shooting 4-of-18 with two air balls as the Thunder blew an 8-point lead and lost. He finished with 51 points, but it took him 43 shots. His 14 missed shots in the 4th quarter were the most in a quarter in the last 20 postseasons.
2) The only reason the Thunder were leading for the first three quarters was because of Westbrook. He had 10 assists in the first half (only three the rest of the game). Victor Oladipo – welcome to the playoffs! – was 4-of-14 shooting and he’s 5-of-26 for the series. Andre Roberson was 0-for-3 on 3-pointers. OKC’s bench was outscored 50-24.
And now OKC is down 2-0.
Three big-picture things jump out at me from this game, starting with this one: Even as Westbrook was struggling in the 4th quarter, social media chirped with excuses. Blaming fatigue, his teammates, anyone but Westbrook. It felt so over-the-top that my first thought was: Do people feel still bad for Westbrook that Kevin Durant left?
And that led me to the obvious question that is going to loom large over the next two months leading into July: What free agents are going to want to come and play with him? No man is an island in the NBA, you can’t win anything on your own. An MVP, sure; but a playoff series? So who is watching him jack up 43 shots and thinking, ‘man, I’ve got to play with the guy who just shot 43 times!’
Lastly, and this is certainly premature with the series only 2-0, but how bad is the NBA going to look if Westbrook captures the MVP award, and then gets swept or loses this series? Only one MVP in the last 35 years has lost in the first round of the playoffs: Dirk Nowitzki in 2007. Dallas won 67 games and captured the #1 seed, and then was upset by Golden State.
Dirk was fantastic (50/41/90), and easily captured the award ahead of Steve Nash (50/45/89). It was a weird playoffs – that was the year the Suns should have gotten to the Finals, but a shaky ejection flipped the series and the Spurs advanced and swept the Cavs. Looking back, 22-year old LeBron James should have finished higher than 5th. He averaged 27-6-6, and if voting was done after the playoffs, well, this game probably would have won him the award, because this was the moment you knew OH MY GOSH THIS GUY IS INCREDIBLE:
It came against the #1 seeded Pistons. LeBron had a weaker supporting cast then than Westbrook has now.