There are memorable moments in athletic contests which cause fans to wax poetic every time they’re recalled. Moments of victory, moments of defeat or moments where an athlete leaves it all on the field of play, leading fans to acknowledge, respect and cherish the special performance that they witnessed.
Reggie Miller ripping out the hearts of the Knicks in the final 8.9 seconds of Game 1 in the 1995 Playoffs. “The Dunk” delivered by John Starks in Game 2 of the 1993 Conference Finals. The Ewingless Knicks giving everything they could in the 1999 NBA Finals before losing to the Spurs. Dominique and Bird going at it in Game 7 of the 1988 Conference Semifianls and of course, Michael Jordan’s flu game during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals.
Well on Tuesday night, we witnessed a star bestow upon us another memorable playoff performance as Russell Westbrook dropped 47 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and came 1 assist short of his fourth consecutive playoff triple double as the Thunder fell to the Rockets, 99 – 105. To me, through this series, Westbrook solidified his already concrete claim to the NBA MVP. Yet of course the doubters still remain.
NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) April 26, 2017
If you fall into this category and even begin to think about doubting his status as League MVP, you should stop now, apologize and recognize what Westbrook actually accomplished.
He wasn’t just scoring points, he was rebounding and dishing. He was in the paint on both ends of the floor, grabbing boards and pushing the ball down the court. In these playoffs, he was pulling up from 30 feet and draining threes, keeping his team in the game. If you’re like Patrick Beverly and want to point out that he took 34 shots to generate 47 points, that’s fine.
Patrick Beverley brought out the receipts on Russell Westbrook pic.twitter.com/gsH8uAc6Bv
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But also acknowledge the fact that he had no second option. Victor Oladipo went 4-17, 23.5%, en route to scoring 10 points and registering 0 assists in 33 minutes. Taj Gibson went for 10 points and eight boards, and the list of poor statistics continues on. Westbrook refused to give up though, going crazy in the third quarter and even stealing the ball from Trevor Ariza and scoring with 12.8 seconds remaining in the game to pull his team within four. But you could see he was physically spent and no one else stepped up.
“I’ll tell you what. This kid tried to will his team to win tonight.” said Charles Barkley on Inside the NBA after the game, which Kenny Smith followed up with “But he didn’t get any help tonight.”
“None.” said Shaq.
That exchange accurately sums up the season and playoffs for the Thunder.
Westbrook did everything he could at both ends of the floor, on the perimeter and in the paint. But he sorely lacked another true baller. They had role players in place, but were missing that other star who would give the team another on-court threat
His importance to the team in the playoffs was magnified through two stats. One, with him on the bench for almost three minutes in the fourth quarter, the game took a 10 point swing in the Rockets favor. And two, with him on the bench during the series, the Thunder were -58 in scoring.
If that doesn’t manifest his value to the team, then we really need to re-evaluate the thought process behind MVP.
What we witnessed this season was amazing and historic. He averaged a triple-double in the regular season with 35 points, 11.8 rebounds and 11.3 assists while also capturing his second League scoring title. He set a new record of triple-doubles in a season with 42 and became the first player since Wilt Chamberlain with three straight triple-doubles in the playoffs. Speaking of rebounds, of his 864 this season, 727 were on the defensive end. Yes, almost 85% of those rebounds were hauled in on the defensive side of the ball.
We’ve seen high point scorers and floor generals win the NBA MVP. But we hadn’t see a player like Westbrook in a long time. For those who never got to see Oscar or Magic, Russell Westbrook filled that void in your basketball lives, and what you saw this season was both special and MVP certified.
Westbrook embodies what leagues, voters and fans seek when looking for a player worthy of an MVP. A leader of the team on the court and one who well represents the team and league off of it. Someone who emits emotion and plays with passion but who lacks the poor behavior which sometimes plagues many award worthy athletes. Westbrook is also unique as an individual, one who doesn’t generate negative attention off the court, with maybe the exception of his pre-and post game outfits. But other than the Axl Rose inspired outfits we saw this post season, Westbrook did nothing else but provide us with reasons to watch and celebrate him.
Let’s hope you truly understand, respect and appreciate what we witnessed from #0 this season, and realize what a shame it is that we couldn’t get see him in a few more games this year.
Russell Westbrook (Getty Images)