Jeff Zillgitt USA TODAY
Published 12:51 PM EDT Apr 19, 2019
Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook called his performance in Game 2 unacceptable. He said he needs to play better.
He better if the Thunder, down 2-0, have any chance of getting back in and winning this first-round Western Conference playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Westbrook is off to a horrible start.
He is shooting 13-for-37 from the field (35.1 percent), including 5-for-20 in Game 2 and is 1-for-10 on three-pointers.
His advanced stats look ugly, too. His offensive rating is 91.4 points per 100 possessions and defensive rating is 114.8 points allowed per 100 possessions for a minus-23.4 net rating.
It’s a small sample size without question, yet in this playoff series those are the numbers impacting the result.
Digging deeper, Westbrook’s playoff struggles date to Game 5 of the 2016 Western Conference finals against Golden State. Westbrook and the Thunder are 3-13 in the postseason since taking a 3-1 lead against the Warriors three seasons ago.
In those 16 games, Westbrook averages look good: 29.9 points, 10.8 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game. But he’s shooting 38.5 percent from the field and 28.3 percent on three-pointers. There are 10-for-27, 6-for-23, 10-for-28, 5-for-17 and 5-for-20 shooting performances. In those 16 games, he has shot at least 40 percent just six times.
His advanced stats are similar in those 16 games: 48.9 percent true shooting percentage, 42.5 percent effective shooting percentage, 100.1 offensive rating and 106.5 defensive rating with a 38.3 percent usage rating, according to nba.com/stats.
For comparison, during the 2018-19 regular season: 50.1 percent true shooting percentage, 45.8 percent effective shooting percentage, 112 offensive rating and 104.8 offensive rating and 30 percent usage rate.
His shooting numbers have spawned memes depicting Westbrook as a bricklayer.
Westbrook’s performance through two games is made worse by Damian Lillard’s production, and it’s not lost on anyone that Westbrook earlier this season told Lillard during a game that he has “been busting that (expletive) for years.”
Right now, Lillard is doing the busting. The Blazers guard is averaging 29.5 points, five assists and four rebounds and shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 47.4 percent on threes, including deep, Steph Curry-range ones near the half-court logo.
Lillard is torching the Thunder offensively and making it difficult for Westbrook to score.
“That team is going to go as far as (Westbrook) and Paul George (can take it),” Lillard told reporters. “We could try to score points and do all that stuff, but if we don’t defend them … we don’t have much of a chance. Our minds are made up that we’re going to take that challenge. Our season is on the line.”
Head-to-head against Lillard, Westbrook is 9-for-22 from the field (3-for-12 in Game 2) and 1-for-5 on three-pointers, according to the NBA’s advanced box scores.
In addition to Lillard, the Blazers have used different defenders (Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless) on Westbrook, and when he drives to the basket, they’ve tried to make it difficult on his shots at the rim with help defense.
Westbrook, who is not seeing many double-teams, has also missed shots he normally makes at the rim, missed open shots and chucked some bricks.
It’s not all on Westbrook. Teammates and opponents have a lot to do with it, too. But he’s the 2016-17 MVP and has made the All-NBA team in seven of the eight previous seasons.
He’s right. He needs to play better. Game 3 is Friday in Oklahoma City.
“I’m going to be better, so I’m not worried one bit,” Westbrook told reporters. “My job is to make sure I continue to come out and will and lead our guys and make sure we have a chance to win the game.”
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt
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