On the massive stage of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Westbrook was no different Tuesday. He hit only one of his five shots in the first quarter and seemed, as usual, about as in control as a speed skater in his first time on clappers.
Through all his skidding and spinning, Westbrook piled up six assists in the first half and helped the Oklahoma City Thunder stay within striking distance of the Miami Heat at halftime. Kevin Durant was stunning and Westbrook was infuriating, so even though the Thunder were down by seven points, it could be said that they had the Heat right where they wanted them. Westbrook finished with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in Oklahoma City's 105-94 win.
Few words are overused as much as the word "hater," but there really is no other way to put this: There are Westbrook haters and Westbrook fans. The haters fixate on his atrocious shot selection, his inability to create as a point guard and a fiery persona that always seems to have him on the edge of an emotional eruption. The fans focus on his relentless, attacking mentality, which fits in well with the easygoing style of Durant and the facilitating mindset of James Harden. Oklahoma City's opponent can never sit back and rest when Westbrook is on the floor, because in all likelihood he is already at the cup.
Westbrook's impact on the Thunder's personality is so great that even Durant, the Most Valuable Player runner-up, calls Westbrook the team's MVP. In the long run, as goes Durant, so go the Thunder. But from play to play in the short run, as goes Westbrook, so go the Thunder. Westbrook's aggression was on display during some of the most pivotal moments of Tuesday's game.
With the Thunder ahead 74-73 in the fourth quarter, LeBron James missed a midrange jumper that would have given Miami the lead. After grabbing the defensive rebound, Westbrook took only seven seconds to get down the floor and get off a shot. Even though Westbrook missed, by pushing the ball he had kept the Heat from getting back on defense, which allowed Durant to pick the ball out of a mess of arms and get an easy layup.
Five minutes later, with the Thunder ahead 84-81, Westbrook missed a fallaway 18-footer that made the haters shout, "See!?!" A hustling Nick Collison tipped the offensive rebound back out to Westbrook, who was not pouting or turning to whine to the officials (like some other players we know). Without hesitation, Westbrook flicked the ball to Durant, who immediately drained a 3-pointer to push the lead to six.
The dagger may have been Westbrook's shot two minutes after that. James missed a layup that would have cut Miami's deficit to six points with 3:41 left. Westbrook, one of the best rebounding guards around, gathered the defensive board. Instead of holding up and trying to waste clock — which, given the circumstances, might have been the wise thing to do — Westbrook took off downcourt. He dribbled to the free throw line, realized no one was guarding him and figured, what the heck? His jumpshot found twine, and in a matter of six seconds, the game went from being tight to looking quite grim for Miami.
Any Celtics fan know that when it comes to gifted, mercurial point guards, they must take the good with the bad. Get stuck on the negative qualities, and they will miss the qualities that make those players indispensable.
Score Game 1 for the Westbrook fans.