Playoffs 2017: West First Round -- Rockets (3) vs. Thunder (6)
Russell Westbrook has historic night, but runs out of steam in Oklahoma City Thunder's Game 2 loss
Houston Rockets overcome performance with balanced effort in key fourth quarter
HOUSTON — Russell Westbrook arrived at Toyota Center for Game 2 wearing a jaunty bandana on his head, sunglasses and a black-and-white tropical shirt that was open to the waist, looking like a shipwrecked pirate in search of a beach party.
Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of fun!
And it was smooth sailing for the better part of three quarters as Capt. Russ was in full, swashbuckling attack mode, plundering the Rockets with all-out rushes to the basket and enough pull-up jumpers to send the historians digging for treasure buried deep in the archives.
His 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds were the most points ever scored in a playoff triple-double. It was, in fact, just the sixth time a triple-double was achieved when anyone had scored more than 40 points all-time, putting him on an illustrious short list with Jerry West, Oscar Robertson (twice), Charles Barkley and LeBron James.
But when it was over, all Westbrook could see was a 115-111 loss to the Rockets that left his Thunder in a 2-0 hole in the hull of their first round series.
“I don’t give a (bleep) about the (stat) line,” he said. “We lost.”
The Thunder lost for the same reason that they spent the entire season muddling around in the depths of the Western Conference playoff standings — he simply doesn’t have enough help in the offense and has to carry too much of the burden. It made for an historic run through the schedule, setting the all-time record for triple-doubles with 42 and joining the Big O as the only players in history to average a triple-double for an entire season.
They also lost because Capt. Russ eventually played the fourth quarter looking more like peg-legged Long John Silver — worn down, tired and without two good limbs to stand on. Westbrook made 17 of 43 shots in the game, but only hit 4-for-18, including just 1-for-7 on 3-pointers, while playing all 12 minutes in the final period.
“No. I was alright,” he insisted.
It’s what he always says, never giving quarter.
This is the first-round series that everybody wanted to see to maybe settle the question of whether Westbrook or Houston’s James Harden is worthy of the MVP Award. It’s not often that the league gets a matchup of the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers for the season in the playoffs.
But the difference is still that Harden — Blackbeard, if you will — can afford to start off Game 1 of the series shooting 0-for-4 and Game 2 shooting 2-for-7 and the Rockets are not in over their heads.
Harden put up 35 points, eight assists and four rebounds on the strength of his relentless charges to the hoop that produced 20 free throws. But he’s also got Eric Gordon coming off the bench with 22 points, Lou Williams with 21 and starting backcourt mate Pat Beverley kicking in 15.
Meanwhile Westbrook never gets a chance to let up or barely take a breath.
Thunder coach Billy Donovan knows the peril of pushing Westbrook past the 41-minute mark and wearing him out down the stretch. He pulled Westbrook out for a rest at the end of the third quarter. But the Rockets closed out the period on a 12-3 run to cut OKC’s lead down to 89-86 and Donovan had no choice but to go right back to his big gun, his only gun. Houston jumped all over him.
“I didn’t think we closed the quarter particularly well,” Donovan said. “I came back with Russell pretty soon. He’s not the kind of guy that’s going to make any excuses. I think from my perspective, I’ve got to look at the fact that he did play the whole fourth quarter and you know he was tired coming down the stretch to a certain extent. I don’t want to talk for him, because I didn’t ask him that. But it’s something that certainly crossed my mind.”
Maybe when Westbrook’s legs looked like they were filled with concrete and his shots became heavy and short. The jumper that had been falling suddenly was nowhere close and he began to just hurl himself into the lane and at the basket, trying to throw anything up at the basket. At one point in the fourth quarter he missed eight consecutive shots.
“They brought three people,” Westbrook said. “They was bringing three people and trapping, things of that nature. I thought I was able to get to the basket. Some calls we didn’t get down the stretch and I got some shots. But you know me. I got to do a better job of finding my guys, trusting in them, especially late in the games when things aren’t going my way.”
But his guys could combine for only three buckets between them in the fourth quarter, one each by Andre Roberson, Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott. It’s the story of the season, enough to run even a stylish pirate aground.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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