OKLAHOMA CITY — My 5-year-old came home and told me a lesson he learned at school.
“You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.”
So it goes, whether you’re talking about Popsicle flavors or Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Getting worked up over grape, cherry or whatever does no good. Nothing’s changing. As for Westbrook?
Live with it.
Pointing to Westbrook as the problem is shortsighted, inaccurate and, frankly, played out. It’s become the go-to, bottom-line reason after almost every Thunder loss. You’ve hit conceptual bedrock when you say it’s Russ’ fault.
Heading into Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night in Miami, the formula for Thunder success doesn’t rely on Westbrook changing his game, mind-set or anything else. Not only is it not realistic, it’s just a bad idea.
If the Thunder are going to win an NBA title, it’s not going to come down to whether Westbrook changes or makes adjustments.
No. That’s on Kevin Durant.
It’s Durant, not Westbrook, who needs to change. Westbrook is doing his part.
Oh, sure, people will point to the stats. After all, Westbrook is just 20 for 50 in the two games this championship series. He shot 38 percent in the Game 2 loss and 41 percent in the Game 1 win after shooting 45 percent during the regular season.
Yet, Westbrook’s playoff numbers have improved in other areas. He is getting more assists per game. He’s cut down on turnovers, going from 3.6 to 2.2.
Westbrook hasn’t shot well against Miami, but he’s done everything else well. Eighteen assists and just four turnovers. Sixteen rebounds. That’s more than Durant, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison.
And consider this: Westbrook has shot 50 percent combined in the second half of the two games. He has scored 36 of his 54 points in both games in the second half, playing his best during a rally that won Game 1 and a comeback that came up just short in Game 2.
So, what’s the problem?
Frankly, it’s been Durant. Durant was sensational in the fourth quarter of Game 1, but his slow start during Game 2 had a devastating impact on Westbrook. When Durant is uninvolved, as he was Thursday — he shot just 1 of 3 from the field in the first quarter and 2 of 6 in the second quarter for a combined six first-half points — the offense stagnates.
And that puts more pressure on Westbrook. Maybe coach Scott Brooks could have gone to reserve James Harden earlier — he played just five minutes in the first quarter — to take some of the scoring pressure off of Westbrook, but he didn’t. A smaller lineup might work better, but it didn’t happen. So when Durant doesn’t do his thing, Westbrook must do more.
“I just thought I was playing my game,” Westbrook said of a first-half Game 2 performance in which he went 2 of 10. “I got easy shots that I usually make, layups, just playing my game. Just unfortunately, the shots weren’t falling.”
In Game 1, Durant went dormant in the second and third quarters. He attempted just four shots. Meanwhile, Westbrook was a major reason for the 13-point rally. He went for 18 points in those middle two quarters.
Here’s the deal: Westbrook shoots a lot. We know that. And the more he shoots, the better off the Thunder are. When he attempts more shots than Durant, the Thunder are 29-8 this season.
Blame seems to center on Westbrook. The Thunder have gotten off to dreadful starts in both Finals games. Brooks said his players need to play harder, with more intensity. Better on defense. Two early fouls on both Durant and Westbrook might have been a factor in that.
But what really needs to happen? Durant, not Westbrook, must get going earlier. Westbrook doesn’t need to shoot less (just 5 of 20 combined in the two first halves). Instead, Durant needs to get more immersed in the offense and take more shots. Durant is 8 for 16 in the first halves, only four more attempts than Ibaka has during that same span.
Overall, Durant is 24 for 42 in the two games, but he’s saved it for the second half, going an amazing 16 of 26 combined. If Durant is able to make that last shot against Miami in Game 2, or if he gets fouled and makes the free throws, no one’s talking about Westbrook and his deficiencies.
Yes, Westbrook would be better served to make a few more than he misses. No one’s arguing that, but issues and arguments with Westbrook’s game are fruitless. If you have a problem with it, it’s on you. He’s not changing.
You get what you get with Westbrook. He’s played wild and inconsistent at times — he has his whole career — and it’s difficult to say it hasn’t served the Thunder well.
Unpredictable is who he is, and the Thunder will live with it.