Blog Entry

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

Posted on: May 20, 2011 1:20 am
Edited on: May 20, 2011 1:51 am
Posted by Royce Young

The Thunder pulled out a gutsy, hard-fought win in Game 2, evening the series 1-1. But, more than likely, there’s going to be more talk about how the Thunder won the game than actually that they won the game.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks is the main reason the word “gutsy” is in that lede. Brooks made what I’m sure was an extremely difficult decision to go with his bench the entire fourth quarter. Russell Westbrook — who was very good the first three quarters — didn’t play a second in the final 12 minutes. It was backup point guard Eric Maynor’s team to run. In fact, only one starter played the bulk of the fourth, and it was Kevin Durant. (Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka played the closing minutes.)

I’ve already heard people saying Westbrook was pouting, furious or a lot of other negative things about his so-called “benching.” I’ve heard people speculating that Brooks wanted to teach him a lesson. That this was a way to humble him for all his previous late-game transgressions.

But the picture at the top says otherwise. That shows Westbrook up and cheering his teammates on during that big fourth quarter. That's not as fun to talk about, though.

But that’s not at all what this was about. This was about the five players on the floor and how well they were playing. This was about going with what was going to win you a game. Russell Westbrook isn’t stupid. (Or at least I don't think he is.) I’m sure he’s going to be a little upset. I’m sure he’s offended he didn’t come in. He's an All-Star and he didn't play a second in the fourth quarter of the biggest game of the season.

But his team won. That's what matters. 

The perception was that Westbrook was taken out because he was struggling. Kevin Durant was asked about that post-game and the Thunder's star didn't see it that way.

“I don’t think he struggled tonight. We went with a different lineup in the fourth. But he didn’t struggle. When he was on the floor he played pretty well I think," Durant said. "Russell understands that. He’s a perfect teammate. He was over there cheering everybody on. As a leader, that’s what you want to see over there on the bench.”

There is going to be a story made about this situation, which is probably unfair. But it fits the evolving Russell Westbrook story. This feeds every narrative we’ve heard about over the past few weeks. I get that. I’m not dumb.

And you know what? If Westbrook actually is so offended that this becomes an issue, then I don’t think he fits the culture of the Thunder organization. The franchise is entirely about team, together and trusting in the next guy. I can’t think that Westbrook isn’t a part of that. Sam Presti is a master evaluator of not just talent, but character. And the one thing that blew Presti away the first time he evaluated Westbrook was his work ethic and charatcer. If Westbrook's truly offended by this development and is going to let it fester into an issue, then maybe he really isn't part of the long-term future.

The Thunder won this game without Westbrook on the floor in the biggest moments. Easy to see that. Westbrook didn’t turn the ball over, didn’t miss a shot, didn’t make a bad decision in the final 12 minutes. That’s true. But to think this is some kind of change the Thunder need to pursue full time or more often is borderline crazy. This team didn’t win 55 games and get to the Western Conference Finals with Russell Westbrook sitting on the bench. Brooks played the hot hand. He went with what was working. And besides, it’s not like Westbrook had nothing to do with OKC's win or something.

Honestly, the bigger story SHOULD be about Brooks making that call — which had to be incredibly hard — and sticking with it. Brooks knows it’s going to be a big story. He knows that there’s going to be damage control. He summed it up simply.

“I didn’t want to mess with the rhythm,” he said. “It had nothing to do with Russell. Eric was playing good basketball for us.” That tells the story, but that’s not the story people want to hear. It’s not the good story. It’s not what’s most interesting.

Again, the real story is how well the Thunder bench performed. James Harden was completely lights out (23 points on 6-9 shooting, seven rebounds, four assists). Eric Mayor, terrific (13 points, zero turnovers). Nick Collison was downright heroic on Dirk. Daequan Cook hit a couple massive 3s. Look at the Thunder bench: +5, +10, +18, +11, +14. The bench went 9-11 in the fourth quarter for 23 of the Thunder’s 29 points. In the second quarter, the bench scored on 10 consecutive possessions. They scored a total 50 points. Now that’s a story.

There’s going to be a bunch of chatter after this one and that’s the trade Scott Brooks made with his decision to stick with his bench. Maybe some of the Thunder's fabled chemistry is upset. It's a possibility. But the move paid off and the Thunder took a crucial Game 2. The question is that while it paid off in the short-term, could it have an effect on the long-term?

Brooks may have to do a bit of grief counseling tomorrow, but the same starting five will be out there for Game 3. Russell Westbrook will get his time. This was about going with the hot hand and your gut. And in this case, it completely worked. You can’t second guess that.


Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: May 21, 2011 1:06 am

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

It's an emotional game. Give Russell a break.

Oh, it's an emotional game?  Um, thanks for point  All sports are emotional.  But when a player lets his emotions get the best of him and hurts his team, it's worth discussing. 

Since: Jul 9, 2010
Posted on: May 20, 2011 7:20 pm

Changing the Title of YOUR Comment

It's an emotional game. Give Russell a break.

Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: May 20, 2011 5:55 pm

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

It's important to remember that Russell is only 22-years old
Thanks.  Yes, we all know that.  Unfortunately, it's irrelevant.  It's a matter of acknowleding his unprofessional behavior on the sideline, which the author apparently didn't watch, the fact that his me-first tendency when he gets upset cost the team a game against Memphis and was only rescued in the 3OT game when Harden ran the point during Westbrook's "me" stretch.  When Westbrook learns to play four quarters the way he can, he will be an elite talent and the Thunder an infinitely better team.  Is Eric Maynor more talented than Russell Westbrook?  Of course not.  Is he a better pure point?  Debatable, given Westbrook's unique skills.  Did they HAVE to remove Westbrook last night?  Only if they wanted to win.  Did it matter last night that he was 22 years old?  No.  The fact was he was hurting his team, his replacement was playing better than him, and he sulked for 28 seconds of the 3rd, the entire break and most of the fourth quarter.

Does his youth mean anything going forward?  Absolutely.  It gives reason to believe that Westbrook will continue to improve and refine his point guard play.  Will it happen in this series?  We'll all be watching to find out.

Also, his age doesn't exuse his behavior.  There are younger guys than he, and have been in this league, others who manage to play the game without slipping "back to that pick-up basketball that he was playing not so long ago.  He only have to look to his own teammates for examples.

Since: Nov 3, 2006
Posted on: May 20, 2011 2:19 pm

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

It's important to remember that Russell is only 22-years old.  A high percentage of the basketball in his life, up until now, was played in someone's back yard or a public gym.  There would be enough kids hanging around, shooting hoops, to get a game together and every player would play all out.  They also played with the emotions of young men just learning about life.
Westbrook is an outstanding athlete of good character who loves his team.  Still, learning how to place the team first is a growing process.  He is a great leader on the court but, yes, every now and then his emotions will slip back to that pick-up basketball  he was playing not so long ago.  That's what coaches and team-mates are for.
I'll bet Russell Westbrook is around for a long time and that he just keeps getting better and better.

Since: Apr 19, 2010
Posted on: May 20, 2011 1:44 pm

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

Westbrook got pulled before the end of the 3rd quarter because he wasn't running the offense and was trying to take over himself.  Anyone that watched the game knows he went off on the sideline after he was pulled from the game and even after Maurice Cheeks went over and said something to him he was still running his mouth.  When he got pulled, Eric Maynor started running the plays that were called and the Thunder increased their lead.  Westbrook is a great talent, but he is still learning the PG position.  Hopefully, for OKC, he used last night as a learning experience.

Since: Jul 9, 2010
Posted on: May 20, 2011 11:59 am


This is by far one of the better articles I've read on here. Nice job, Royce. Good perspective and good writing.

Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: May 20, 2011 11:55 am

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

Unless someone can film Russell in midst of a blowup, that part of the story is make believe.
I can only guess you didn't watch the game.

Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: May 20, 2011 11:29 am

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

But the picture at the top says otherwise.
Really?  Because it's pretty stupid to base an article or opinion on an isolated pic taken from 12:28 of game time.

What I noticed was Westbrook's refusal to join the team (though the other bench players did) during a timeout with 6 minutes left in the game.  I saw him acting like a child on the bench.  I saw Eric Maynor outplaying him, but instead of realizing his own deficiencies, him running off at the mouth until the classy Maurice Cheeks had to come speak to him.  Only when the Thunder started pushing the lead toward double digits did Westbrook suddenly remember he was part of the team.  He had his t-shirt in about four minutes into his bench time.  I wondered if he would have done a Scottie Gutless Pippen routine and refused to go in if Brooks called his name.

Watch the game instead of picking a single picture to base your article on.

And don't go by what Durant says about Westbrook.  Durant is always classy when discussing his teammates and coaching staff.  He's supported Westbrook through RW's ups and downs, when most stars would have been calling him out for his selfish play.

Brooks made a gutsy call.  One I had hoped he would make against Memphis when it was just as warranted.  But now that he's done it, I hope Westbrook is smart enough and professional enough to come out and get it done without drama.

Since: Jan 20, 2010
Posted on: May 20, 2011 11:09 am

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

Scott Brooks got lucky, Eric maynor was playing well in the fourth quarter, the last three minutes he was running on fumes. Maynor was not charged with a turnover, but he lost the ball with less than a minute left Ibaka caught it as the 24 second clock expired so he was charged with the turnover. It seems that they're trying to make Westbrook the scapegoat when things don't go right. At the start of their season when Durant was struggling, Westbrook was carrying the team now you want him to pass first and not look for his shot that's something that's hard to do at this time of the season. If anyone watched game one, or the Memphis series, you could see that Scott Brook's stuggles as a coach. He put in Nate Robinson who's only a scorer and had him guard J.J Barea, made him look like star. 

Since: May 20, 2011
Posted on: May 20, 2011 6:26 am

Scott Brooks makes a daring move with Westbrook

Winning a team sport competition does not necessarily win by individuals. So coaches is calling the shot...everybody must embrace each other in time of winning and everybody said..Players win the games and the coaches looses it...even the 3rd option off the bench running the games and win...superstar must the end of the day WINNING the competition benifited the whole teams.. no question controversy will arise..thats it..Coaches decission<br />

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