State of the Team: Westbrook's temper flares
FEB 01, 2013 10:24a ET
If only dealing with Russell Westbrook was as simple.
The Thunder seem to be on edge of greatness, with a trip back to The Finals a real possibility. Now, if they can just stay out of their own way.
Despite a circle the wagons approach with a side of spin by a full-court coverage of cover-up used by Thunder coaches and players, it's pretty obvious the everything-is-always-great team chemistry Oklahoma City flaunts is being tested.
"You can make whatever you want to make out of it," coach Scott Brooks said.
So can you. Here's what happened:
Westbrook got upset with teammate Thabo Sefolosha in the third quarter and barked at him on the court. The next possession, Westbrook came down and took a wild shot. He was taken out of the game by Brooks and then Westbrook went to the bench and lost it as assistant coach Maurice Cheeks seemed to try and calm him down. It didn't work. Westbrook knocked over a chair, stormed off the floor and into the tunnel with a member of the Thunder security team scrambling behind him.
Undoubtedly, Westbrook is a fierce competitor. It's part of what makes him one of the best players in the league. But what he showed in the 2011 playoffs at Dallas, what he did last June against Miami and what he did Thursday against Memphis is a troubling trend.
Throwing a fit and escaping before any of the media could ask him about it is a disconcerting situation.
Athletes lose their temper all the time. Heck, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka were seen arguing last week, but neither left the court. Brooks did say Westbrook's behavior wasn't good and that "He has to be able to control his frustration."
That means not creating a federal case after being placed in "Timeout" by Brooks.
Brooks added that he knew Westbrook would return and he knew he would put him back in the game. Westbrook did come back in and wound up 9-of-17 shooting for 21 points, but the Thunder can't put up with a player throwing a tantrum, only to return to the court a minute later. It's distracting – Westbrook played just 4 minutes in the third quarter, and the Thunder were outscored 33-21 – and it's disrespectful.
Westbrook was essentially benched in favor of Eric Maynor in a win at Dallas in the Western Conference Finals in 2011. Last year, against Miami in Game 3, Westbrook seemed out of control and was benched in the third quarter. But Westbrook never reacted like he did Thursday.
It makes you kinda wonder what he'll do next, because you just know he's going to get pulled out of a game again. It's going to happen and now Brooks has to spend time worrying about feelings and managing personalities.
After the game, Nick Collison talked about Westbrook's leadership and teammates seemed to back their point guard.
"It was nothing," Brooks said. "He needed to regroup, he came back and it was nothing that has not happened before. Not just him, but with all of our guys. Our guys are always playing with a competitive spirit. But I knew we needed to take him out at that moment."
Brooks is right about one thing: They are spirited, but they aren't leaving the court when things go bad.
Who's hot: Stick with me here, but Kendrick Perkins is playing good basketball. Naturally, he doesn't wow you with offense and he's certainly not in there to produce points, but check the numbers. Perkins is seven-of-nine shooting the last two games with 12 rebounds.
Who's not: Certainly don't mean to pile on Russell Westbrook, but he is coming off of a six-game road trip where he shot just 37 percent. Now, he did have 27 assists in a two-game stretch and he did rally to shoot 9-of-17 against Memphis Thursday, but man, things don't seem easy for the eccentric and easily agitated Westbrook.
1. You have to wonder if the Memphis-Oklahoma City rivalry will drop off some. The two had a great seven-game series two seasons ago in the Western Conference semifinals, but with Rudy Gay getting traded to Toronto, it doesn't seem like the Grizzlies will be able to keep pace with the Thunder.
2. Young teams play better at home and you could see the Thunder got a big jolt of adrenaline Thursday. Returning after a six-game road trip, the Thunder shot 80 percent in the first quarter and went on to rout the Grizzlies. The Thunder started 12-of-14 from the floor.
3. We're les than two weeks away from Miami coming to Oklahoma City. It will be the first trip here for the Heat since a Game 2 win in the Finals. Generally speaking, the Oklahoma City crowd is considered one of the loudest in the league. It will be even moreseo for the Valentine's Day game against LeBron and the Heat. The Thunder lost in Miami on Christmas Day. I'd be real surprised if the Thunder fall at home and go 0-2 against the Heat this season.
"We are desperate. We can't keep losing. From now on, we can only go up. We've been at the bottom. So now we just got to look up and get up." - Dwight Howard after his Lakers beat the Thunder
"He was frustrated with himself, no question. He plays hard and he plays for his team every night. We can pick apart his game, but he plays hard every night. I have no problem with guys who compete." - Scott Brooks on Russell Westbrook's actions Thursday against Memphis.
• Lost in the easy win against Sacramento was what the Thunder did against Demarcus Cousins. Cousins had nine points, three rebounds and three steals in the first quarter. He went 2-of-9 shooting the rest of the game.
• Russell Westbrook is on pace to average more than 21 points, eight assists and five rebounds. Since 2002, only LeBron James, Chris Paul and Gary Payton have had those numbers.
• Sure, the Lakers were desperate and had recently been blown out on their home court against the Thunder, but man, Kevin Durant and Westbrook sure struggled. The two combined to shoot 16-of-48 from the field and 3-of-10 from the 3-point line. Those kind of numbers won't beat any teams in the NBA, much less, a Laker team that was playing with a sense of urgency.
• Good stuff from The Oklahoman on Kevin Martin who has developed an odd habit of stepping out of bounds a lot this season. Martin said it's because the Thunder have asked him to be more of a spot-up shooter than he has ever before. That means Martin has to toe the boundary more and he says it is still something he is getting used to.
Up next: The Thunder are back on the road for a game Saturday at Cleveland before returning home for three games next week against Western Conference foes Dallas (Monday), Golden State (Wednesday) and Phoenix (Friday).
Tower of Power?
Definitely. So the Thunder finished a 3-3 road trip losing to possible playoff opponents Golden State and Denver. But keep in mind, Oklahoma City is still 15-8 this season on the road. Good teams lose games, but great teams have impressive road records.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter @theandrewgilman