Russell Westbrook Reminds NBA Why Oklahoma City Thunder Need His Hero Ball

Josh MartinNBA Lead WriterMay 14, 2014

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) celebrates with teammate Russell Westbrook, right, at the end of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinal NBA basketball playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Oklahoma City won 105-104. (AP Photo)
Uncredited/Associated Press

Charles Barkley was right.

During TNT's Inside the NBA after Game 5 between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers, Barkley called Russell Westbrook a "dummy" for trying to play hero on the pull-up three-pointer that drew a foul from fellow "dummy" Chris Paul with six seconds left.

Westbrook may have been a "dummy" for attempting such a silly shot, but it's hard to fault the desire to play hero, wanting to finish the job he started.

In the end, Westbrook got his chance to do just that, calmly knocking down three free throws to deliver the Thunder to a perplexing 105-104 win over the stumbling, bumbling, fumbling Clippers.

Kevin Durant saved OKC's bacon by scoring 10 of his 27 points in the final 3:23 of this wild Western Conference calamity, but there wouldn't have been any bacon to save without Westbrook's valiant effort.

Durant misfired on 14 of his first 17 attempts from the field, so many of which were either contested, taken off the dribble or both.

Luckily for Durant and the Thunder, Westbrook showed up from the get-go. Westbrook scored 35 of his game-high 38 points prior to KD's crunch-time "arrival," all of which came on a relatively efficient 11-of-23 from the field and 14-of-16 at the stripe.

Whenever OKC needed a bucket or a big play of some sort, it was Westbrook who delivered.

When the Thunder fell behind by 15 points in the first quarter, Westbrook sparked a mini rally with a five-point spurt.

When the Thunder dipped back into a double-digit hole ahead of halftime, Westbrook stepped up with a three-pointer from the right wing, a layup off a Matt Barnes turnover and a dish to Steven Adams for an easy dunk to slice the deficit down to three. 

When the Clippers threatened to pull away at the end of the third, it was Westbrook who scored or assisted on 15 straight OKC points.

And when the Thunder seemed all but buried on the wrong end of a 13-point margin with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter, it was Westbrook who started the improbable rally with a shot at the rim, kept it going by dishing to Durant on a pair of mad-dash scores and finished it off by poking the ball away from Paul and, after a controversial call, drawing that last, fateful foul from his opposing point guard.

Make no mistake: Westbrook had plenty of help in pushing OKC to victory from people not decked out in the home whites.

The Clippers, and Paul in particular, were uncharacteristically sloppy down the stretch. Their comedy of errors (i.e. 1-of-6 from the field, three fouls, three turnovers in the final four minutes) left the door wide-open for the hungry, desperate Thunder to snap "Lawler's Law" over their knee like a brittle baseball bat.

As for the officials...well, one need only conduct a quick scan of Twitter or replay Doc Rivers' postgame press conference to understand that the zebras didn't have an exemplary evening, to say the least.

Heck, the call that sent Westbrook to the line with just a few ticks left on the clock might be worthy of scorn from the league office.

Foolish as the foul may have been, and foolish as Westbrook was for pulling up at all, there's no faulting him for hitting three huge freebies with the game on the line.

Westbrook was certainly complicit in the Thunder falling behind big in the fourth—he took some questionable shots, missed others well within his wheelhouse and turned the ball over four times on the evening—but there's no denying how much he did to drag OKC back from near-oblivion, back from the brink of a 3-2 series deficit.

But that's Westbrook in a nutshell, isn't it?

With him, you take the good with the bad, because as bad as the bad may be at times, boy, that good can be real good.

Like "38 points, five rebounds, six assists (and two secondary assists, per and three steals" good. Like "being Durant when Durant wasn't Durant" good. Like "putting OKC within one win of the Western Conference Finals" good.

That's why Westbrook got to play hero in Game 5. That's why Westbrook had the leeway to try the same trick at the end of Game 4, when his game-saving three rimmed out while Durant waited on the opposite wing.

He's the brilliant troublemaker in a grade-school classroom, the one whose tremendous talent and potential are often overshadowed by his frustrating behavior.

Just because he goes about his work in a way that doesn't fit conventional notions of what he should or shouldn't be doesn't mean he's not going to get the job done.

More often than not, it's the opposite. On this night, it was.

And if the Thunder are to survive this seesaw of a series and fulfill their championship potential, that's how it's going to be.

In the words of Twitter, #LetWestbrookBeWestbrook.


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