With the Thunder’s season officially on the brink, Russell Westbrook stuck his neck out to ensure that his team remained united.
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Houston defeated Oklahoma City 113-109 in Game 4 on Sunday to claim a commanding 3-1 series lead. Continuing a pattern that persisted all season long and throughout much of this series, the Thunder struggled mightily when their MVP went to the bench. In Game 4, Oklahoma City was +14 in Westbrook’s 39 minutes on the court and -18 in his 9 minutes off the court. Houston pulled off the road win despite a cold shooting night from James Harden in large part because Oklahoma City gave up a 14-4 run with Westbrook sitting late in the third quarter and early in the fourth.
But Westbrook didn’t want to hear anything about the glaring on/off discrepancy, instead choosing to hop on the grenade for his teammates when the subject was broached during the post-game press conference.
“Hold on Steven,” Westbrook said, interjecting to respond to a question that was initially directed at Thunder center Steven Adams, who was seated to his left. “I don’t want nobody to try to split us up. We’re all one team. Regardless of if I go to the bench and Steven is on the floor or if I’m off the floor. We in this together.
“Don’t split us up. Don’t try to split us up. Don’t try to make us go against each other. Try to make it as Russell and the rest of the guys. Russell against Houston. I don’t want to hear that. We’re in this together. We playing as a team and that’s all that matters. That’s it.”
Westbrook then brushed off multiple follow-up attempts.
“That’s fine,” he said. “Say ‘Russell, you ain’t play well at all.’ Or, say, ‘Russell and the team haven’t played well.’ Don’t say, ‘When Russell goes out, the team don’t play well.’ That don’t matter. We’re in this together.”
Further attempts to get an answer from Adams were shooed off with a “Next question” from Westbrook, who finished with 35 points (on 10-28 shooting), 14 rebounds and 14 assists.
Westbrook’s indispensability has been a defining characteristic for the Thunder in their first season following the free-agency departure of Kevin Durant. Through four games, the Thunder are +3 when Westbrook is on the court and -40 when he’s off the court. Westbrook is averaging a team-high 38.2 MPG. During the regular season, Oklahoma City was +251 with Westbrook on the court and -189 when he was off the court. Westbrook posted an NBA-record 40.8 Usage % during the regular season and has a league-leading 45.6 Usage % in the playoffs.
Houston will get its first chance to close out Oklahoma City when it hosts Game 5 at the Toyota Center on Tuesday.