Column: Do Thunder and Russell Westbrook have a problem?

By Scott Spangler

russell westbrook

Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Scott Brooks may have won on some levels after Thunder-Mavericks Game 2 with the decision to stick with guard Eric Maynor, but something may have been lost with his starting point guard Russell Westbrook, despite what is being said publicly. There may in fact be a problem.

How do we know?

Despite a horrid offensive showing in the first half of Game 3, Brooks stuck with Westbrook the entire second half. And while Westbrook’s final offensive numbers were respectable, a lot of that came while matched up against the diminutive and defensively-challenged J.J. Barea.

Westbrook did produce 30 points, and yes, he was getting to the foul line, but it took 20 shots and all of that came at the expense of offensive flow (4 assists to 7 turnovers). The Thunder only had 11 assists as a team on 27 made field goals. That tells us there was a lot of pounding the ball and very little ball movement.

That makes life so much easier on a defense.

Credit Dallas for remaining committed to what looked to be a deliberate defensive game-plan. From the outset, the Mavs were using Tyson Chandler to blitz the ball in pick and roll situations. On just about every high screen, the Mavericks left the screener uncovered because they were concentrating on keeping two defenders in front of Westbrook. And what exactly is there to fear by cutting loose Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka?

The result of this strategy was a stagnant offensive performance by the Thunder. OKC did not break the 30-percent shooting mark until late in the third quarter.

Getting back to the Brooks/Westbrook issue, it doesn’t take a Mensan to conclude there is a rift there. Clearly, there was frustration on the part of the player throughout Game 2 in Dallas. After being ripped clean by defensive mastermind Peja Stojakovic and then losing the ball to Jason Kidd in successive possessions, Brooks made the move to Maynor.

We all saw Westbrook boiling over on the bench. We all saw him play the good teammate in timeouts and in huddles. We also read his postgame response. “When we’re winning, I’m good.”

So, Scott Brooks makes the switch to Maynor Thursday night in a game his starting PG and offense were performing rather well, and then sticks with his backup. Conversely, he decides to hang with Westbrook in Game 3 despite suffering through a dreadful first-half performance.

Nothing about that makes sense.

One could certainly understand the Game 2 decision. Brooks’ bench was performing splendidly in Game 2, and the Thunder had seized momentum. Brooks simply stuck with what was working. But when nothing is going well Saturday night and OKC’s guard play had much to do with that, it’s tough to rationalize Westbrook 42 minutes, Maynor six.

Not so tough when considering the likelihood of a coach appeasing the star point guard, doing what he can to not lose the player.

This is not to suggest a move to Maynor would have saved the day, and certainly not to lay all the blame at the feet of Westbrook. It’s just that, the sudden shift in Brooks’ approach leaves many of us scratching our heads.

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