The Los Angeles Lakers blew a 26-point lead on Wednesday night, and loss to the lowly Oklahoma City Thunder 123-115. Russell Westbrook was the story of this game for the Lakers.
Russ finished the game with a quadruple double: 20 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists, and 10 turnovers. He was a -12 for the game.
“I got to take care of the ball,” Westbrook said, taking the blame. “Too many mishaps allowed. It’s my fault. It’s on me. But I’m going to take care of it. I know that. And keep the game simple. Because we need those possessions, especially in games like this.”
This game was the full Westbrook experience. The horrific shooting. Forty percent from the field, including 25 percent from three. The mesmerizing energy, effort, and athleticism, and the inexplicable careless turnovers.
Westbrook has averaged a triple-double in four of the past five seasons. That is a remarkable feat and unprecedented in the NBA. But for all the stat accumulation, what has it done for his team’s chances of winning?
In those five seasons his teams have made it out of the first round of the playoffs once. The Lakers knew what they were signing up for when they traded for him from the Washington Wizards.
The prevailing thought was they were going to let Russ be Russ, and figure everything else out.
On the surface that’s not a bad plan, considering Russ was joining LeBron James, who is maybe the greatest player of all-time and Anthony Davis, a rare unicorn if ever there was one.
But we’ve seen this movie before. This is year 14 for Westbrook. Russ being Russ has its limitations. If you’re ultimate goal is winning the title, his style of play is an impediment.
Noted talking heads Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe had a field day Thursday morning discussing the shortcomings of Westbrook, on their FS1 television show “Undisputed.”
“You will never win with Russ being Russ,” Sharpe yelled. “There’s a reason he has not won since Kevin Durant.”
.@ShannonSharpe on the Lakers blowing a 26 point lead:
"The Lakers stopped playing defense, started jacking up shots and turning the ball over. LeBron needs to realize that you're not going to win with Russ as your primary decision maker, because he makes the worst decisions." pic.twitter.com/NjLsKfa8D9
— UNDISPUTED (@undisputed) October 28, 2021
To make matters worse, Russ was ejected late in the game after taking exception to the Thunder’s Darius Bazley for scoring on a breakaway dunk with 1.5 seconds remaining instead of dribbling out the clock.
“How I play the game, I’m more old-school,” Westbrook said, “And when s— like that happens, I don’t let it slide. … In the game of basketball, there’s certain things you just don’t do. Like in baseball, you don’t flip the bat. There’s certain things you don’t do in sports when the game’s already over. And I didn’t like it. Simple as that.”
Raise your hand if you ever thought you’d live to see the day that Russell Westbrook became the defender of the “unwritten rules” of sports.
That you dancing, Russ?
We are only five games into the season, so there is no need to overreact. But this was a bad loss considering the 26-point lead and the opponent. The OKC Thunder have been picked by just about every major outlet to finish with the worst record in the league. It is an open secret that they are tanking this season.
It’s also a troubling sign because this Lakers team is championship or bust, and they’re the oldest team in the league. With injuries to key players already, including James, they are missing out on valuable chemistry-building reps during the early part of the season.
No players, particularly older players, get healthier or fresher as the season moves on. How are the Lakers players going to fit together and establish their roles so they are a finely tuned machine come the playoffs?
It’s not impossible and LeBron is LeBron, but these early signs should be filed away. Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is …
Well, for Lakers fans, let’s hope it never gets that far.