This one ain’t that deep folks.
“Water is wet. Why do you think that is?”
That was basically the equivalent of what Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams was asked while sitting at the post-game press conference podium alongside Russell Westbrook yesterday. The Thunder had just lost to the Rockets at home, 113-109, in Game 4 of the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, falling into a three-games-to-one hole and one game shy of elimination.
In a game where Houston’s James Harden was far from his MVP-candidate-form, the Rockets got some outstanding play from their supporting cast. 157-year-old Brazilian vet Nene scored 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Harden had 16 points, but Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18, and Trevor Ariza added 14 in a true team effort.
“That’s what a team is for,” Harden said. “It’s not just one guy. I’ve believed in trusting these guys all year long. We say it every game that it’s not going to be just one or two guys that win this game. On different nights, it’s going to be different guys that step up. That was the case tonight.”
What some might see as Harden’s subtle jab at his friend Westbrook and the unrealistic burden that he’s asked to carry, his statement was an irrefutable truth.
No matter how mercurial and relentless Westbrook is, he’s not making any noise with a roster that is not equipped to “step up” when he has an off night.
Russ was far from off, and he was on and popping like Jiffy Pop popcorn from the opening tip. He finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only cats to notch three playoff triple-doubles in a row.
Adams scored 18 points for Oklahoma City, and Victor Oladipo added 15. But when Westbrook was on the bench, his team was minus-18. With him on the floor, they were plus-14.
If you’ve been living under a rock, or think Westbrook has been simply “padding his stats” this year, you have no idea how remarkable this season has been for him. He has had to be prodigious and beyond exceptional for his team to even be in this position.
Without him, OKC would be having lottery dreams right about now.
Basically, the Thunder stink without Westbrook, and the fact that he’s been able to put up such numbers without another superstar or two to help free him up from the burden of carrying a sub-par team night in and out speaks to the immensity of what he’s accomplished this year.
At the post-game presser, Russ got tense when the reporter asked Adams, “Steven, second time in three games you guys really struggled when Russell went to the bench. You were out there for part of that, what goes on when he goes to the bench? Why is Houston so successful, and do you sense that they get an energy boost just from him going out of the game?
Welp, Russell Westbrook wasn’t a happy camper during the post-game press conference.pic.twitter.com/KcOkdhdKsE
The Shadow League (@ShadowLeagueTSL) April 23, 2017
And deservedly so. The narrative this entire year has been around Westbrook wreaking havoc as a one-man gang. That doesn’t work in the playoffs where other players, other than a team’s superstars, need to step up at crucial times.
Do you know why Derek Fisher is relevant? Or Robert Horry? Do you know why people still talk about players like Sean Elliot, Vinnie Johnson, Big Baby Davis, Nate Robinson, Kenny Smith, Mario Elie, Sam Cassell, Steve Kerr, Gerald Henderson and John Paxson, among others?
The NBA Playoffs is not just when Hall of Famers cement their all-time greatness. It’s when good role players step out of the shadows to make a name for themselves while pushing their teams forward.
As much as we love LeBron, Magic, Tim Duncan, Kobe and Jordan, they all had a supporting cast that could step up when the situation warranted, guys who didn’t shrink from big moments, but rather elevated their game when their teams most needed it.
Nene did that for Harden last night.
At some point, someone outside of the usual suspects will do something to help the Cavs, Spurs, Warriors, Wizards and other excellent teams make a deep push toward the O’Brien Trophy this post-season.
But Russell Westbrook, no matter how much his presence on a game looms larger than Alonzo Harris’ King Kong, his supporting cast is like the homies sitting around watching him getting shot in the ass. They ain’t doin’ nothin’!!!
Russ refused to let the reporter dictate the further perpetuation of a narrative that would keep his team divided. He knows he needs his squad, as much as everyone assumes that he can do it by himself. But he also understands their limitations.
So asking about why the team struggles when Russ is on the bench, or what goes on when he goes to the bench, and why Houston was so successful when he did take a breather, and if other teams get an energy boost when he leaves the game, are merely ill thought out questions that only Captain Obvious would ask.
Westbrook was right in shutting that down. Because we all know the answer. Russ is trying to maintain that he needs his team, that they win and lose as a unit. Which is true.
What is also true is what Adams’ response would have been had he not been muted.
“Why do we struggle when Russ is on the bench? Because we stink.”
Pretty certain that it’s rather obvious.