43 points. Seven rebounds. Five assists. Russell Westbrook was pure and complete brilliance for 46 minutes.
And then he made the biggest mistake of his career.
Westbrook played the best game of his professional career, in a game where the Thunder needed each and every point, rebound, assist and play to hang with Miami after the Heat survived the Thunder’s hot start. Westbrook was fearless, relentless, and deliberate. He got to the rim, he got the mid-range jumper going, he helped his team respond to every huge shot from Miami.
And then, right when it was right there for him to change the story, quiet the critics, this happened:
In no way should this loss be put on Westbrook’s shoulders. They would have been buried beneath the Heat’s offense without Westbrook. It was a mistake, one of several the Thunder made, but just one. James Harden’s inability to convert anything resembling a major play was worse. Derek Fisher’s layup attempt that was blocked, leading to a Lebron James conversion at the other end was worse. Serge Ibaka’s rotation defense was worse. They were there, with a chance to win, because of Westbrook. It drifted past because of Westbrook, and because Scott Brooks was unable to prepare the team to be ready for how the clock functions in that scenario.
That’s how things break in a Finals this close.
Call out the defense, call out the coaching, praise the Heat.
But don’t bring this on Westbrook’s shoulders. They carried too much in Game 4.
Craig Sager to get third bone marrow transplant thanks to anonymous donor
McGary has battled injuries his two seasons in the league and got on the court for only 72 minutes total last season for the Thunder (he played in more games and put up solid numbers in the D-LEague). He was not part of the future there regardless. He’s an undersized five trying to play the four and what he brought as a rookie — energy — was not enough as a sophomore.
McGary will make $1.5 million this season. He may be tough to move because he’s suspended for the first five games he’s eligible to play next season for failing the league’s drug policy (five games is the standard suspension for testing positive for marijuana three times). Maybe a team looking to develop players will give him a shot, but there is little trade value for him.
Dwight Howard is shooting 19-footers to improve his free throw stroke
The challenge is form and reps are not the problems for Howard — or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or others — when it comes to hitting free throws. Anyone who says “why don’t they just practice the shot” doesn’t pay attention, these guys put in a lot of work on the shot. Pregame and in practice (I’m Los Angeles based), Jordan probably hits 65 percent from the line. At least.
The problem is mental. That can be a tougher hurdle to clear. Maybe taking 19 footers and knocking them down will have Howard feeling more confident at the stripe this season.
But we’re going to need to see it to believe it. Just like we’re going to have to see a rejuvenated Howard in Atlanta before we believe this season will be different from the last few.
Report: Veteran big man Jason Thompson agrees to deal in China
Until this season, Jason Thompson had never been to the playoffs. He spent seven seasons in Sacramento before getting traded to the Warriors last offseason, and then signing with the Raptors midseason when Golden State waived him to make room on the roster for Anderson Varejao. His NBA days appear over, at least for now. International basketball reporter David Pick reports that Thompson has agreed to a deal to play in China.
Source: NBA veteran Jason Thompson, split last season with Warriors and Raptors, finalized a deal in China with Shandong.