Russell Westbrook, for reasons I struggle to comprehend, took a lot of flak for Game 2. Magic Johnson called it the worst performance by a point guard in the Finals. People have blamed the entire loss on him. As if, without Westbrook, the Thunder would have magically created his 27 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists. Was it efficient? Of course not. This is a series against one of the best defenses in the league. Efficiency is a commodity. He needs to get the efficiency up. He could have played better. But part of this is the role that Westbrook plays in the Thunder offense.
Someone has to soak up possessions. “It should be Kevin Durant!” you say. Durant will never shoot 28 times or more in a game, unless it’s in overtime. It’s not who he is, it’s not who he has ever been, it’s not how he’s made. He’s an efficient shooter who lets the game come to him. Someone has to take those shots. And when they’re falling? Westbrook can drop 40 with the same amount of effort. Shots didn’t fall. He still made plays, and his defense was light years ahead of Durant’s in Game 2. But no one will talk about that.
Whatever the case, Westbrook is having none of it, and he’s going to get grief for that, too. From media availability today:
Russell Westbrook: “I’m not making no adjustments, regardless of what anyone says.”
Outside of the double-negative which actually indicates he’s going to make an adjustment, this is the same kind of bold response you have to expect here. If athletes adjusted their games based on media pressure, LeBron would play in the post more and Dwight Howard would have a reliable hook shot. OK, those are bad examples. But it’s not the time for Westbook to be upending his game. He needs to do what he does. Westbrook needs to be Westbrook. The Thunder can win that way. But the Thunder have to play better defense. Westbrook can take five shots and Durant 40, and it won’t matter if they don’t play better defense. But by all means, let’s keep blaming Westbrook, the LeBron of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Jazz waived Cotton before the season despite Dante Exum‘s injury leaving them with just two other healthy point guards. That says something about Cotton – but also Utah’s depth.
Cotton – who went undrafted out of Providence last year – is quick, varies his speed well and can leap. There’s reason to believe in his potential at age 23. But his 6-foot-1 frame limits him defensively, and he’s not much of a distributor.
Plumlee lowered his head and tried to barrel through Butler’s chest on a Butler screen. Butler fell and retaliated by putting Plumlee in a leg lock, causing Plumlee to fall.
You might remember a leg lock as what Cavaliers guard Matthew Dellavedova did to Bulls forward Taj Gibson during last year’s playoffs. For all the talk then of Dellavedova being a dirty player, Butler seems particularly aggrieved after getting a technical foul, which comes with a $2,500 fine – the same penalty Dellavedova eventually received. (Plumlee got a flagrant foul.)
“He thought he was playing football for a second there,” Butler said. “Almost had to let the Fort Greene Projects out of me, Brooklyn, you know what I’m saying?”
It was said tongue in cheek considering Gibson was a few feet over and Butler wanted to draw some laughs. Gibson is a Brooklyn native and grew up in the Fort Greene Projects while Butler grew up in Tomball, Texas.
It was no laughing matter when he said he would find a way to approach Plumlee about the fine money, jokingly suggesting he would have his agent email him at “Mr. Dukie@yahoo.com or something” and made a joke about Mike Dunleavy applauding Plumlee’s act.
Plumlee and Dunleavy are products of Duke University.
“Yeah, he cost me 2,500,” Butler said. “I’m not happy about that. Gonna ask him to pay me back and I’m not playing.”
“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.
“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”
Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the
Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8
The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.
I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.
If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.
At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.
This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.