It’s not just the 23.2 points per game. It’s not even the 7.4 assists or 5.2 rebounds either. It’s the identity that he gave the team that is sorely lacking.
Over the last couple of years, Westbrook has caught a lot of flack for his decision-making and shot selection and, on the surface, rightfully so. It’s hard to defend anyone taking as many shots per game as Kevin Durant.
The one guy who constantly defended him, though? Kevin Durant.
Durant understood the importance of Westbrook’s unique game. Westbrook made his life easier.
His constant attacking, fiery passion and relentless pressure allowed the court to open up for Durant to be his typical, efficient self.
Westbrook represented exactly what Durant needed to push his game to the next level. He was the Robin to Durant’s Batman, much like that other really good duo in Miami.
Just like Batman constantly needed Robin’s help, Durant is realizing that life without Westbrook is just not fun at all. There is nobody out there to deflect any of the opposition’s attention. The Grizzlies have shown that they’re perfectly content with anyone else beating them.
Just not Durant.
The frustration is evident on the face of Durant as he’s realized that the burden he now has to carry might be too much. Durant on his own is brilliant. Durant with Westbrook is otherworldly.
Ironically, up until this past year, the Thunder had one of the few guys who could have picked up the slack. James Harden was always the perfect compliment to the dynamic duo because of his ability to handle the ball and create his own offense.
That’s exactly what Durant needed Monday night. Obviously he can get his points whenever he wants but Durant has always been at his best off the ball, curling off screens and squeezing off feathery smooth jumpers.
Unfortunately for him, the Thunder management foolishly broke apart what was arguably the best core in the entire league by putting their eggs in the Serge Ibaka basket and trading Harden to the Houston Rockets before the season began.
These playoffs have revealed the gravity of that mistake by exposing Ibaka for what he is: a role player. He was a superb fourth banana last year. He’s a pretty sorry excuse for sidekick, though.
Unfortunately for Durant, Russell Westbrook isn’t playing any time soon, Harden is gone and Ibaka isn’t going to magically morph into the player the Thunder hoped he was. As it’s been since Westbrook went out, it’s all on Durant now.
Maybe now all those who criticized the play of Westbrook will bite their tongues. If these playoffs have shown us anything, it’s how important Westbrook is to the success of the Thunder.
As the old adage goes, “you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”