Russell Westbrook was always going to be at the center of the conversation for the Oklahoma City Thunder this year. After Kevin Durant left in free agency, the load of carrying the entire team was thrown firmly on his shoulders and he courted that challenge.
This season hasn’t always been easy for the one-man-wrecking-crew as people have continuously doubted his methods in guiding the team to the sixth seed in the Western Conference. 2017’s MVP debate largely centered around the point guard.
Kawhi Leonard and James Harden have both been candidates for the honor as well, but it is Westbrook who has been doing absolutely everything for his team. Harden has had a monster year, but the sheer force of OKC’s star is hard to ignore.
On Wednesday night, the All-Star had another one of his signature style performances as he tallied 51 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds in a loss to the Houston Rockets. Now, his team is in a 0-2 hole heading into Game 3 back in Oklahoma.
That scoring performance gave him the highest scoring triple-double in NBA Playoff history, but the fact that they lost the game remains. Down the stretch, Russ missed 14 shots on the way to a 4-18 fourth quarter and there were many moments that he basically forgot about his teammates.
Doug McDermott was 3-4 from three and found himself wide open behind the line during the final frame multiple times. At some point, the other guys for OKC will have to get a shot to help their leader secure a game.
Still, if Westbrook doesn’t score these kinds of gaudy totals then the squad has no shot of even making this a series. The Thunder reserves were outscored by 15 points during the time that their superstar was on the bench.
The fact that he can sit for six minutes and some change, followed by the offence falling apart tells you all you need to know about their team’s construction. In the offseason, this group was built to function around KD and Russ together.
Now that Golden State has Durant, the team is struggling to generate buckets that don’t come directly from Westbrook himself. That means that, despite outcry from NBA observers, he will have to continue this herculean effort just to give them a chance to win.
Everything Oklahoma does will be dependent on how far their superstar can drag them at this point. That fact has been illustrated all year and won’t stop now, but even the most willful force from Westbrook might not be enough to escape an early exit.