New Year’s Eve, the Thunder managed a solid win against the Hawks, and were up 101-92 with less than 24 seconds remaining. Game over, baby. Except that Russell Westbrook was one assist shy of a triple-double. Serge Ibaka leaked out in transition, caught an outlet, and dunked it home, making it 103-92. Okay, Ibaka was just playing hard. Except the clock was off. The Thunder could have just dribbled out the possession, game over, no biggie. Instead the Thunder went stat hounding and wound up ticking off the Hawks.
From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
“That’s a sign of disrespect,” Smith said. “Everybody in the whole league knows that you don’t do nothing like that. We remember something like that.”
Smith had a conversation with Durant about the play.
“He said he was going to handle it because he knew that wasn’t right,” Smith said.
First, let’s take a second and credit Josh Smith here. Instead of taking a hard foul at Ibaka or getting into a fight, or even just lobbing insults which would warrant a technical, Smith talked to the floor leader for the Thunder, Kevin Durant, and explained it to him. Respectful leadership and conflict resolution in the NBA? Be still, my leaping heart.
Now then, this situation is going to get judged by whatever your pre-conceived notions are. If you’re the type that thinks that running up the score should be allowed, that it’s the objective of the defense to stop the offense, and we shouldn’t punish players for going to the whistle, even when the game is very clearly over and there’s absolutely nothing to be gained from such endeavors, then you’re probably going to side with Westbrook and Ibaka. If you’re the type that thinks there should be limits and rules regarding how you behave in a professional sporting contest where the objective at all times is to create baskets while preventing the same from your opponent, then you’re probably not going to like this. We’re not going to settle it, because we all have our opinions and they’re unlikely to change in this matter.
But it does show a level of immaturity on the part of the Thunder. You avoid riling a team up by just running out the clock, and you do right by your fellow athlete. The Hawks and Thunder don’t have a rivalry, they’re not even in the same conference. It’s not going to be well received by veterans like Smith, and in fact, Scott Brooks wasn’t a fan of it either. From Thunder blog Daily Thunder:
However, Scott Brooks wasn’t a fan of the play and said he talked to Westbrook about it. “When you’ve got the game won, you run the clock out,” Brooks said.
It’s just kind of what you do. Daily Thunder argues that the Hawks were still trying to score in a similar situation. And that’s accurate. No one’s saying the Thunder shouldn’t play defense, or if the Hawks were to somehow close the gap, that the Thunder should miss free throws or not score to extend the lead if pressured, but in this situation, the Hawks had capitulated. And when the opponent throws in the towel, you don’t give them one more punch on the way down, even if it does get you the triple-double.
That triple-double is what is at the heart of this whole thing, the pursuit of a bit of statistical greatness for a single night. But while all triple-doubles are subject to the same kinds of arbitrary stat attribution that all great games are (“Was that really his rebound?” “Was that really an assist?”), this one feels like it needs more of an asterisk than most. It’s reminiscent of Brett Favre taking a dive to give Strahan the sack record. It wasn’t a huge deal, but it still takes it away to a certain degree.
Should be fun next time these two teams meet.
Oh, and in case you believe in Karma, the Thunder were blown out of the building, down the street, into the river, down the stream, and into the Gulf of Mexico the next night by the Spurs, 101-74. Just sayin’.