Russell Westbrook was emotional, he was hot when taken out in the third quarter. The plays that the Thunder were supposed to be running nobody was executing so he was left solo, and that led to some ugliness. He was yelling and we’re guessing they were words on George Carlin’s list. He was hot enough that assistant coach Mo Cheeks had to come down the bench and calm him down. He stayed out of team huddles. Then Westbrook sat the entire fourth quarter.
And none of that matters. Not if the Thunder are about winning. Not if Westbrook is mature. The question isn’t why it happened, because it has happened to a lot of guards.
The question that matters is does it bother Westbrook going forward?
He said all the right things after the game, saying when the team is winning — and the bench unit, including backup point guard Eric Maynor with Kevin Durant was playing more cohesive basketball than the Thunder starters — then go with the hot hand. It worked; the Thunder beat the Mavericks 106-100 and evened the Western Conference finals at a game apiece.
“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 said in a locker room interview broadcast on ESPN.
Westbrook now joins a long line of great point guards who sat for the fourth quarter of big playoff games. Chuck Daly once sat in-his-prime Isiah Thomas in the fourth quarter of a Game 5 against the Bulls because Vinny Johnson and Joe Dumars had it going. That’s just the top of a long list. (Thomas dropped 33 in Game 6.)
“I’ve done it a few times during the year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of sitting Westbrook after the game in a news conference broadcast on NBA-TV. “Doesn’t happen often, Russell is an incredible player, he’s our starting point guard, but we weren’t getting a lot of things done and his time was to come out then I stayed with Eric.”
The guess here is Westbrook was over this by the time he hit the bus.
Westbrook is not a guy that comes to the NBA as a super-pampered player. He didn’t start in high school until he was a junior, and he went to Leuzinger in the greater Los Angeles area (Lawndale), not exactly a basketball powerhouse. At all. Then he went to UCLA where Ben Howland sat him. Then, when he was getting some good run, he benched himself for a stretch. He dealt with all of it and came out better on the other end.
Maybe that’s not the case. Maybe the constant questions he will be asked about this leading up to Game 3 on Saturday will wear on him. Maybe this will be a clubhouse issue, but I doubt it. There are few clubhouses with teammates as tight together as OKC. It’s something that will be discussed for the next few days to no end.
But Westbrook (who had 18 points and played pretty well) and the Thunder have probably already moved on. They better if they plan on winning this series.
This is putting the “carousel” in coaching carousel.
Hornets assistant Stephen Silas (a Rockets head-coaching candidate) and Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts (a Grizzlies head-coaching candidate) are also both interviewing to become the Warriors’ lead assistant. If Tibbetts gets the job, Portland would have a vacancy, so…
Portland also was granted permission Sunday to talk to Silas about being its top assistant, league sources said.
Working for Steve Kerr in Golden State – which propelled Alvin Gentry to Pelicans head coach last year and Luke Walton to Lakers head coach this year – is probably preferable. But Silas’ star is rising, regardless. He’s a highly regarded assistant coach.
Terry Stotts, contract extension in hand, could add Silas without fearing being undermined. That’s the value of giving head coaches security. Hiring good assistants becomes more tenable.
Why would Silas leave another good coach, Steve Clifford in Charlotte, for the Trail Blazers? I don’t know for certain, but in these situations, there’s usually one place to start: money. Portland’s willingness to spend could pay off.
While a couple of the big chairs have yet to be filled — Houston still hasn’t settled on a coach, neither has Memphis — the assistant coaching spots around the league are starting to fill up.
Marc Stein of ESPN dropped some nuggets about the bench of Nate McMillan in Indiana and Dave Joerger in Sacramento:
Bayno, the former UNLV head coach, had not been in the NBA this season but had been with Dwane Casey in Toronto the two seasons before that, and before that had been an assistant with Minnesota and Portland.
Corliss Willamson had been popular with players in Sacramento, as had Nancy Lieberman — but she also had a big fan on owner Vivek Ranadive. She is one of only two full-time female assistant coaches in the NBA (along with Becky Hammond in San Antonio).
However, this time an injury played a role.
Love was limping around by the end of the third and said after the game he stepped on a referee’s foot and tweaked his knee. He also said this was not going to keep him out of Game 5, reports Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.
“I think Kyrie [Irving] was shooting towards the end of the third quarter, and I stepped on the official’s foot, and it didn’t feel too great,” said Love, who had a total of 13 points and 11 rebounds in Games 3 and 4. “More so the knee [than the ankle hurting]. Will be sore tomorrow, but nothing that will prevent me from playing.”
Love had seemed to find a groove playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to start the playoffs, averaging 18.4 points per game and shooting 44.9 percent from three in the playoffs as the Cavaliers opened the playoffs with 10 straight wins. But like a few Cavaliers, his shooting has gone ice-cold in Canada — he also was rejected at the rim by Bismack Biyombo. Frye has played in crunch time because he is hitting shots.
“I had a lot of great shots, I just didn’t knock them down,” Love said. “It’s a simple as that. I had a lot of confidence in shooting the ball, a lot of really wide open 3’s, especially to start that first quarter. A number of them went in and out, so I just need to continue to stay aggressive.”
This series is knotted 2-2, and the Cavaliers need Love to find his shot before Wednesday night’s Game 5 — the Cavaliers have a series on their hands.
His biggest play of the night was this clean block of Kevin Love at the rim. Love passed to LeBron James in the post, caught his defender napping and cut the rim, got the pass back from James and… denied.
Biyombo also got LeBron James at the rim but was called for a foul much to the dismay of Biyombo, Raptors fans, and the ESPN broadcast crew (it was the right call — watch Biyombo leap across the lane, he is anything but vertical, he contacts LeBron’s body, that’s a foul). Either way it’s worth watching.