Russell Westbrook, you’re in good company.
With your needless foul that essentially ended your team’s chances in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, you joined the above list, tentatively titled, “All-Time Greats Who Made a Foolish Error That Cost Their Teams a Huge Playoff Game.”
All three of the players listed above played in many more critical games, and won multiple championships after getting those errors out of their systems. Worthy actually earned the nickname “Big Game James” with performances like his masterpiece in Game 7 of the 1988 Finals, while Thomas and Johnson became known as two of the greatest playoff players of their generation.
This is a roundabout way of attacking anyone who would blame Westbrook for tonight’s 104-98 loss, which may have dug his Oklahoma City Thunder an inescapably deep hole. They now trail the Miami Heat by a 3-1 margin, with Thursday’s Game 5 taking place in front of a white-clad South Beach crowd that will at least partially smell blood.
Those who feel the need to assign blame in the event of a Thunder loss can ignore Westbrook and Kevin Durant, both of whom have scored at a heroic rate within an offense that could be charitably called “simplistic.”
Westbrook put up a playoff career-high 43 points in Game 4, eschewing outside heaves in favor of aggressive drives and his near-automatic elbow jumper. Durant managed to avoid foul trouble while scoring on every available defender even with his teammates standing by unhelpfully waiting for him to create.
Here are the more culpable parties in the heartbreaking Game 4 loss.
James Harden: He has a great beard and played extremely well against Dallas and San Antonio in the 2012 postseason, but in the Finals, he’s done what he could to erase all of the positives.
Against Miami has made 13 of 37 field goal attempts and scored in double figures once. By the end of Game 4, he looked genuinely afraid to shoot. His inexplicable offensive meltdown has left his team with too great a burden.
Derek Fisher: He has shot well in the Finals and delivered more offense than the Thunder might have reasonably expected, but he gets at least half a set of goats’ horns tonight for his terrible decision to attempt an endline-to-endline drive off a steal with just under six minutes remaining and his team riding a 7-0 scoring run.
Dwyane Wade swatted Fisher’s finger roll attempt, LeBron James and his cramping legs scored on the other end, and the Thunder lost all momentum. Fisher will escape most blame, and he owes Westbrook a big “Thank You” for making the public forget about Coast-to-Coast-Gate.
Serge Ibaka: He has undone much of his offensive growth from the San Antonio series, failing to provide enough offensive threat to keep the Heat from sending a wall of defenders at Westbrook and Durant. He has yet to find a way to exploit Miami’s small lineups, even if Coach Scott Brooks’ questionable substitution patterns are doing him no favors.
About the Author
Written by Steven Jones
Portland native, Highland Park resident, middle school teacher/basketball coach.