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.
Tuesday night’s game between the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers was a good one, with the teams going-back-and-forth all night. In an OT game that came down to the wire, a sequence in the third quarter was perhaps indicative of the kind of contest it was in Madison Square Garden.
Starting with a little more than six minutes to go in the third the teams traded eight consecutive baskets while MSG rose to an accompanying fever pitch.
The whole sequence was pretty hilarious, and lent to that feeling you get sometimes while watching competitive NBA games of complete exhilaration.
New York wound up winning in OT, 113-109.
Philadelphia 76ers have been the Twitter darlings of the NBA for the past few years. Thanks to former general manager Sam Hinkie and the tanking process, guys like Joel Embiid have become even more admired now that the team is in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Of course, players like Embiid are part of the generation that is always online, and the fact that they play in the NBA doesn’t keep them from participating in social media with their contemporaries. Embiid has a great Twitter feed, and is often out on it trying to get dates from the likes of Rihanna while trolling other NBA stars on Instagram.
Of course, as we’ve seen with players in the past, good fortune does not always shine forever. Indeed, conscious of this fact, Embiid as much to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne during a recent interview.
People love you at the beginning,” Embiid explains. “But at some point they’re gonna start hating you. LeBron. Russell Westbrook. All the superstars. Even Steph. He’s so likable. He does nothing wrong, but some people still hate him. It just comes with the nature of it. I’ve seen it.
“I feel like I’m about to go through it. I think it’s coming. People always want something new.”
The ups and downs of how NBA fandom changes the perception of certain players is fascinating, and some even try to directly manipulate that. And indeed, while Embiid is certainly hilarious on social media, the best thing to keep fans at bay will be him staying on the floor and playing games for the Sixers.
Let’s hope that keeps happening and nobody turns on him anytime soon.
LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.
That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.
The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.
Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.
“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.
“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”
Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.
God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.
Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.
The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.
Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.
One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.
“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.
“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”
Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.
But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.