Blog Entry

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

Posted on: November 19, 2010 11:50 pm
BOSTON – At one point during the Thunder’s surprising victory over the Celtics without Kevin Durant Friday night, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks saw something he admired, but didn’t necessarily like.

Driving fearlessly into the conversation about the most lethal point guards in a league filled with them, Russell Westbrook was doing what he was supposed to do in Durant’s absence. He was trying to carry his team, on the road, against the defending Eastern Conference champions. Against the team that lost to the team that knocked the surprising Thunder out of the playoffs last spring.

The trouble was, he was trying too hard. After a turnover and a charge on consecutive out-of-control possessions in the second quarter, Brooks took Westbrook out and tried to give him a chance to cool off.

“He has a spirit that’s not going to back down,” Brooks said after the shorthanded Thunder beat the Celtics 89-84, their second victory in four days against a playoff team on the road following an equally impressive performance in Utah. “But sometimes, you have to back down and use your guys. I said, ‘Russell, you have four guys out there working just as hard as you are. Use them.’”

After a three-minute stint on the bench, Westbrook settled down and ultimately needed those guys – on both ends of the floor – to hold off the Celtics down the stretch. Westbrook finished with 31 points, six assists, and seven turnovers, dueling with Rajon Rondo until the Celtics’ point guard missed the last five minutes with a strained hamstring. The Thunder won despite going the last 9 1-2 minutes without a field goal, with Westbrook going 0-for-7 with six points – all from the foul line – in the fourth quarter, and with Durant sitting on the bench in street clothes with a sprained ankle that caused him to miss a game for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

After finding out less than an hour before tipoff that the Thunder would be without Durant in addition to starting forward Jeff Green, the Celtics suffered a classic case of letdown.

“We were definitely out of sync,” Ray Allen said. “We didn’t have any ball movement. We didn’t have any rhythm all night.”

In effect, the Celtics learned how it feels to be their opponent on most nights. Typically, it is Rondo who controls the tempo and dances through the defense with the ball on a yo-yo string. Westbrook did it with aggression and straight-line speed, whereas Rondo does it with lateral quickness and cut-your-heart-out guile. But Westbrook’s method was just as effective.

“Russell did a phenomenal job controlling the tempo,” Brooks said.

That is, after coming to the bench, listening to a lecture Rondo used to hear all the time from Doc Rivers, and resisting the urge to do too much.

“When guys are down,” Westbrook said, “other guys have to come in and be ready to play.”

Just not too ready.

The Thunder needed a confidence-builder after struggling to a 3-3 start that was capped by a 92-83 loss to the Celtics at home on Nov. 7. Their success will almost always be about Durant. But it was interesting to see Westbrook fearlessly attack Rondo without his superstar scoring machine on the floor with him.

More and more, Westbrook’s matchup with the opposing point guard will be as much reason to watch the Thunder as Durant. The rest of this month alone will feature Westbrook vs. Jason Kidd and Chris Paul. Early next month, Derrick Rose. Westbrook belongs right there in the conversation with all of them.

Since: Sep 17, 2007
Posted on: November 20, 2010 2:55 pm

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

Watching last nights game and having not seen much of Westbrook up to that point, I couldn't help but think of Derrick Rose. He's big for a PG, but so quick and explosive that when he drives, he's nearly impossible to stop unless you foul him. But when you do, he's money at the free throw line. Add the fact that he's a shooter as well and he's definitely in the mix for top 5 PGs. I'm disappointed Boston lost but gained a ton of respect for the New Agent Zero. With a healthy Durant, it would appear that OKC is no joke.

Since: Sep 8, 2007
Posted on: November 20, 2010 11:44 am

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

As a former OKC resident and current Thunder fan thrilled to have the team in my home state, I feel for the fans in Seattle. They had good fan support. I don't blame them at all for the move. It was about the "liberal city management" as you say, including the Legislature and the Governor. The Sonics had a terrible lease with the City, and there was no support for raising money for a new arena deal in Seattle despite the Seahawks and Mariners getting shiny, brand-new, sparkling stadiums. The liberal argument was (paraphrasing) 'we spent money on KeyArena in 1995 to fix it up. It's nice enough. It's quaint.'

In reality, this "quaint" arena was causing the Sonics to lose money at an alarming rate. Bad lease, luxury boxes were minimal, arena not paid for, etc. The City laughed at David Stern's attempt to get Seattle to spend the necessary money in order to stay within NBA standards. He even flew to Washington on behalf of owner Howard Schutlz to help explain the need for a new arena for Seattle to the Legislature. The people of Washington clearly had enough of taxpayer dollars funding "greedy sports owners" and instead wanted monies spent on other things. In can be argued that the Legislature was doing what they were suppose to do -- to represent the people and their desires. The Sonics fan were loud, but not loud enough to drown out the people who didn't want a new arena. It also can be argued that most in Seattle or the PNW in general thought the Sonics would ever move from Seattle no matter what. Even after Schultz got so tired of losing money and sold it to out-of-state owner Clay Bennett and his crew. That should have been a clear warning sign. 

In a way, the mere fact the team was sold to management from Oklahoma City helped fuel the fire, in my opinion, for Seattle's general apathy. Had the management team been from, say, St. Louis, Kansas City, or a city deemed more as a viable, legitimate "big city threat" perhaps the urgency would have been greater to step up and invest in the team's future in Seattle. Oklahoma City was considered a joke. Why would a team move from a place they've been for 30+ years in the 5th best market in the USA to a place like Oklahoma City, the rallying cry was. Well, it seemed many in Seattle forgot David Stern's NBA model. First, Stern loves the idea of being "the only show in town" in his markets, such as San Antonio, SLC, Sacramento, Portland; cities with only one professional sports franchise. Second, Oklahoma City proved that with the Hornets relocation there after Katrina that they could handle a team. Third, Oklahoma City had a paid-for arena. 

The only time I have argued with Sonics fan is when they blame Stern or Clay Bennett for all their problems. Seattle Mayor, at the time, Greg Nickels sealed Seattle's fate by letting Bennett buy out of the lease. Howard Schutlz obviously made the decision to sell the team to whoever wanted to buy it, and it made no difference to him if he sold it to an ownership group from Oklahoma that desperately wanted a team of their own (shouldn't it be pitifully obvious what Bennett's intentions are, Seattle?). Yet, some of the extremely bitter Sonics fans blame Bennett for not really pursuing a new arena in Seattle (a good faith effort was contingent on selling the team, just so Schultz could save face in Seattle and continue to sell his Starbucks coffee), and blamed David Stern for letting it all happen. What they failed to realize is a sports team is not a public utility or right, but a privilege. Sonics fan blame Bennett for trading Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, aka "gutting the team so no one would watch it the last year" but look at all the salary cap space the team has now and they players they have. It is also true Bennett didn't really spend his days and nights trying to find a new arena in Seattle, but he went through the motions enough, such as he tried to buy land from Boeing, talked to a casino owned by an Indian reservation about building an areana there, etc. But rather than realizing Clay Bennett now was the one holding all the bargaining power, many Sonics fan focused their anger on the "good faith argument" rather than manning up and pressing their elected officials to somehow come up with funding for a new arena to force Bennett to have to stay there. It just seemed to be more of a game of dodge ball rather than face the facts that people in Washington are the ones that sold this team out. Without a seller, there can be no buyer. If Howard Schutlz had not decided to sell the team, they would still be in Seattle today.  

Since: Nov 26, 2006
Posted on: November 20, 2010 11:43 am

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

The thing I like most about Russell Westbrook is the intensity that he brings every night, he plays with a chip on his shoulder as if he feels that he must prove to everyone that he's an elite player.  He's definitely amongst the top 5 point guards in the league.

1.  Chris Paul
2.  Deron Williams
3.  Derrick Rose
4.  Rajon Rondo
5.  Russell Westbrook

He's made great progress in the transition from shooting guard to the point guard position and he should only get better.  At times he does try too hard and is out of control, instead of using his teammates and getting them involved he'll force the issue and this is when he makes the unnecessary turnovers.  With so many good point guard in the league it's going to be fun watching these matchups all season long.  There's Tony Parker in San Antonio, Stephen Curry with Golden St., Aaron Brooks (injured) with Houston, Ty Lawson at Denver and this is just in the Western Conference.  Good road win for the Thunder playing without Durant and Green this should help with their confidence as the season rolls on and they'll definitely need it as teams will be ready and waiting for them. 

Since: Oct 10, 2006
Posted on: November 20, 2010 11:02 am

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

@Steelers_2007 still bitter from the spanking Sunday night. No worries get used to it. Your team stinks now and is very beatable. Similar to the other Pitiful in Pitt team the Pirates. Enjoy your Thanksgiving Day by watching the Patriots at noon. Crybaby

Since: Sep 4, 2007
Posted on: November 20, 2010 7:04 am

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

As a former Sonic STH for 9 years, 93-02, stopped after relocating, I laugh when I think about all morons in Seattle that let this team get away. Typical liberal city management who thinks they know what's best for everyone. I'm glad a great basketball city like OKC was rewarded the franchise and everyone in Seattle get's to think what is would be like to watch this GREAT young team mature into a contender. I can say this now, Seattle fans are similiar to Boston fans, all bark and no bite. Boston fans are some of the loudest and dumbest in the country. What is that song from Metallica that says, "The empty can rattles the most", I think they were talking about Boston fans.

Since: Oct 27, 2010
Posted on: November 20, 2010 3:02 am

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

He's really coming into his own this year. He's contributing in almost every category actoss the board. OKC has alot to look forward to if they can develop their front court to compete with the big boys in the West.

Since: May 6, 2007
Posted on: November 20, 2010 12:50 am

Without Durant, Westbrook goes solo

I think the world championships were just what Russ needed.  He played well last year but playing point for the US team did a lot for his confidence i believe.  It just seemed like he was finally able to take that next step and believe more in himself without always looking over his shoulder at the coach.  Can't wait to see what Russ and Darantula have in store for the Thunder and the rest of the league this year!

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