Russell Westbrook’s laugh came back to bite him, the Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder hadn’t won anything yet.
In fact, they had just lost a game when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were asked a direct and probing question at the postgame presser last Thursday:
"Do you think that [Stephen Curry] is underrated as a defender?"
The question was fair if only a bit uninspired — Curry had just sealed the Warriors’ Game 5 win with a strip of Durant that turned into a dagger layup at the other end of the court.
But Westbrook couldn’t help himself. He started laughing at the premise while Durant gave his honest, unflattering opinion of the unanimous MVP’s defensive prowess.
The Thunder had just lost a game. They were up 3-2 in the series, sure, but history said that the Western Conference Finals were hardly over. You can’t claim the throne until the king is dead and buried.
But Westbrook laughed at Curry anyway, and unlike events earlier in the series, it was unambiguous. Everyone could see the chuckles. In hindsight, Westbrook was laughing at fate.
Was Westbrook right to throw shade at Curry’s defense? Sure. There are few humans on the planet who can guard the seemingly superhuman Westbrook, and despite what the cherry-picked cut-ups floating around on Facebook and Twitter might tell you, Curry is not one of those humans. But a simple scoff or non-answer would have sufficed, considering the circumstances.
The Warriors are the defending champions. They won 73 regular season games. You can’t do either of those things without pride. And they saw the video — make no mistake, they saw Westbrook’s hubris more than once. There was the guy who hadn’t won anything laughing at the league’s first-ever unanimous MVP. The context didn’t matter — the message of disrespect was clear.
Confidence in yourself is a big part of success in basketball, but sometimes it can backfire. It did on Westbrook. With the admittedly better defender Klay Thompson on him the remainder in Games 6 and 7, he shot 17-of-48 from the floor.
And after the laugh, did it come as any surprise that Curry’s legs looked a lot springier in Game 6? That he started to hit those deep 3-pointers he wasn’t taking earlier in the series? That he took over Game 6 late and swung it in favor of the Warriors? That he went off in Game 7 to win the series?
(His primary defender in those games? Westbrook.)
Westbrook isn’t a bad guy — (What was he expected to say? "Yes, he’s an underrated defender?" Come on now) — but he didn’t have to laugh. Not when the cameras are rolling and the entire sporting public is watching. It was silly to test karma the way he did.
There were dozens of on-court moments that could be considered "turning points" in that series for the ages, but for my money, the real turning point came in a postgame press conference. It came when Westbrook decided to poke the bear.