The Thunder are officially in trouble in this Western Conference 1st Round. They trail Portland 3-1 after Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined for 51 points to fuel a double-digit win in Oklahoma City.
Two years ago, the Pacers traded Paul George to the Thunder, providing head coach Billy Donovan with another star to pair with Russell Westbrook. After an early exit in the playoffs last year, the failure of that combination is evident yet again. Westbrook notched only 14 points on a whopping 21 shots in the Game 4 defeat.
This inefficient performance has many analysts wondering how successful can Oklahoma City be with Westbrook long-term. The leading voice of that sentiment is Colin Cowherd, who said on his Monday show that “will never win” with the star guard.
“Russell Westbrook is a stat padder in the regular season, he’s going to win awards,” Cowherd said. “He’s not built for the playoffs.”
He then listed 3 reasons why this is the case.
“A) Playoff basketball is all about adapting. It’s a chess match, the same opponent 5 times, 6 times, 7 times. Westbrook doesn’t adapt. He’s a human tornado, he’s got one speed.
“Second thing is, playoff basketball is all about coaching. Gregg Popovich, Brad Stevens…Westbrook is very, very difficult to coach. He’s inflexible. His personality is inflexible…He’s a ‘my way or the highway guy.’
“Number 3 is, he’s volatile. Playoff basketball is all about crisis. How do you handle crisis? Westbrook is arguing with fans, children, media, coaches, rivals.”
It’s hard to argue against the statistics of a guy who averages a tripe-double at 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists. The point made about adaptability has played itself out this series.
Take a look at Game 1. Westbrook put up 24 points on just 17 shots, which is an efficient game even though it was a close road loss. The next game was a 14-point clunker on 5-of-20 shooting. Seeing as he only attempted 6 threes in that game, that suggests either reckless drives to the basket or ill-advised long 2-point jumpers.
Regarding coaching, Billy Donovan has seemingly been on the hot seat for all of 2018-19. After last year’s first-round loss to the Utah Jazz, Thunder general manager Sam Presti confirmed that Donovan would be back. The fact he needed to do that, considering that Oklahoma City possesses two All-Stars in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, spoke volumes about Donovan’s job security.
Cody Taylor at Thunders Wire wrote last week that “the future of Donovan in Oklahoma City could very well be decided by how far the team advances in the postseason this year.”
Westbrook’s off-the-court histrionics have been the subject of much coverage this season. Sometimes, it’s a legitimate gripe he had with the allegedly racist Utah Jazz fan. Other times, it’s his contentious relationship with Berry Tramel, a columnist with The Oklahoman. Last weekend, he stonewalled Tramel during a postgame press conference.
Cowherd is certainly onto something, since the Thunder are on the verge of a 3rd straight 1st round exit, with only 4 wins in the same timeframe. Seeing as Westbrook’s contract has him staying in Oklahoma City until 2023 (unless someone wants to take on a a cap hit between $38 and $47 million), this issue won’t be solved anytime soon.