Though Oklahoma City won Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals in Dallas Thursday night, you would have figured they’d been blown out based on the scrutiny they faced afterwards. Thunder coach Scott Brooks decided to keep four of his five starters on the bench for the bulk of the fourth quarter, leaving Kevin Durant as the only regular on the floor. Though Dirk Nowitzki went to work on Nick Collison (who was later subbed out for Serge Ibaka) in the fourth quarter, the plan worked well — the Thunder outscored the Mavs by five and won the game 106-100.
James Harden was on the money with 23 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and four assists, and Collison and Daequan Cook combined to go 5-for-5. The real story was that Eric Maynor scored 13 points in 20 minutes while subbing for Russell Westbrook, which created a controversy after the game.
Westbrook has been heavily criticized throughout the playoffs for his questionable shot selection and because of his inability to help Kevin Durant get the ball at times. Though I feel like the Thunder is much better team with Westbrook than without him (see the Game 7 closeout triple double against Memphis), his attitude and performance has been questionable. There are times when Russell should use his quickness and ability to get to the basket to try and score, and other times when he should try to set up his teammates. Sometimes he doesn’t try to run offensive sets and that is a problem. At the same time, there are few point guards who are as quick and effective in transition, so it’s a tricky situation to monitor.
When Westbrook was pulled at the end of the third quarter for committing a turnover in Game 2, he yelled at coach Scott Brooks. He also didn’t get off the bench the entire quarter. Eric Maynor made a couple of really tough layups in traffic over Brendan Haywood and Tyson Chandler. He wasn’t great, but he played well and they won. And when Oklahoma City finally subbed in Ibaka for Collison in the final minute, they left Westbrook out.
Russell acted like a leader after the game, saying all the right things. “I know you all want to ask the same question and I’m going to give you all the same answer: We were winning,” Westbrook repeated. Though he said the right things, you have to figure he was bothered. First off, there isn’t a competitive athlete around who doesn’t want to be on the floor helping his team win at the end of a game, especially if they’re used to being a starter and key contributor. Even if you’re happy your team won, you probably also want to play a big role in the victory — that’s human nature.
Keeping Westbrook and the rest of the starters on the bench for the fourth quarter paid off, but it may have some long-term effects. Maybe over time Westbrook will want to be on a team where he can be the man and not be told by the media to defer to another star at all moments. Maybe he’ll harbor some anger towards Brooks for benching him. Who knows?
Benching Westbrook may hurt his feelings, but this is the Western Conference Finals and Brooks needs to be more concerned about winning games than personal issues. With three more wins they could be in the NBA Finals and playing for a title. Brooks has to do what he can to help the team win games. He did that, and now it’s on Westbrook to get with the program.Google+