John E. Hoover: Westbrook's fit overblown
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, February 02, 2013
2/02/13 at 6:58 AM
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Related story: Westbrook’s temper integral to his identity.
Wow, Russell Westbrook has a temper? Really?
Next thing you know, startling new revelations will be made about how athletic he is, about his jet-pack elevation skills, about his ridiculous quickness.
This is not a problem for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Westbrook is not averse to showing his mercurial side, whether he's holstering his 3-pointer pistols or strutting around in a lip-snarling, fist-clenching, chest-flexing strut or shouting at a teammate for not executing a play.
Frankly, it's a large part of Westbrook's makeup. That occasional flash of defiance, that now-famous temper, is encoded in his DNA, just like his unorthodox turnaround bank shot or his wrong-footed drives to the basket.
Good Russell. Bad Russell. It all blends together in a package that makes him one of the best guards in the NBA, an All-Star, at times an unstoppable force.
In the third quarter of Thursday night's 106-89 victory over Memphis at Chesapeake Arena, Westbrook was assessed a five-second closely guarded call. He slammed the basketball twice and began shouting and gesturing at Thabo Sefolosha, who shouted and gestured back. On the next trip down the floor, Westbrook jacked up a wild brick, and coach Scott Brooks subbed him out.
Westbrook trudged to the end of the bench, where assistant coach Mo Cheeks sat next to him. As Westbrook became demonstratively agitated, Cheeks tried to talk him down. Westbrook then threw a towel to the floor, got up, swatted at a chair, and huffed into the tunnel toward the team locker room.
After he cooled down, Westbrook returned to the bench, got back in the game and helped OKC rebuild its lead.
After the game, Brooks described the events:
"There was obviously a discussion on the court," Brooks said. "One of the offensive plays, we had some trouble with our spacing. Thabo cut over when he probably should've spotted up. It was a discussion and it was a timeout and I decided to take Russell out because we needed to calm down. And then Russell went in the back and it was nothing. He just needed to regroup. ... It wasn't (anything) that has not happened before.
"There's no question he was frustrated with himself. There's no question. He had a turnover," Brooks said. "... Russell's an emotional guy. He plays hard. He plays every night. ... There's no question he was frustrated. I'm not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustrations, but that's part of it. It's nothing that's going to carry over until tomorrow. It's over with, we've moved on."
Tomorrow happens today, when the Thunder visits Cleveland for a Saturday night game. As long as San Antonio continues to sizzle, this and every game is big for OKC.
Many seem to think Westbrook's tantrum will stretch far beyond Cleveland - possibly even into the playoffs.
Westbrook described his blowup to TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager as "Nothing, just a little miscommunication." When Sager asked if Westbrook thought he needed to control his temper more, Westbrook said, "I control it like a man, like I did."
The temper flared. He settled it down. His way. By himself. Away from his team. It's unorthodox, just like Westbrook's turnaround jumper. But just like that shot, if it works, why try to change it?
During the postgame show, TNT studio analysts and erstwhile All-Stars Kenny Smith, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley discussed Westbrook's outburst.
"Chemistry is fragile," Smith said. "I hate to walk around the locker room on eggshells when a guy does something like this. Now you can't act natural around this guy for a couple days, and that really messes your team's morale up."
Maybe. But maybe Westbrook is just different. O'Neal said Westbrook was obviously wrong but doesn't think it'll carry over.
"In order to be a great leader, you have to be a great listener," Shaq said. "He messed up. ... He's wrong. He knows he's wrong. You move on."
Barkley said Brooks and Cheeks "gotta handle this. This has been going on for years now. At some point, Scott and Maurice have to say, 'Hey, dude, you've either got to grow up, or we can't win a championship.' ... This thing is gonna show its ugly head deep in the playoffs. They've got to handle this."
Other than Kevin Durant, chemistry has been the Thunder's best asset during the past three years. Oklahoma City's steady ascension is attached to Durant's ethereal abilities, but its foundation is good team chemistry: guys who know their role and accept everyone's foibles and find a way to get along and ultimately like each other. OKC has mastered that as well as any team in any sport.
Durant acknowledged Westbrook's emotional surges and said the team encourages "everybody to be themselves.
"It was a disagreement," Durant told reporters after the game. "It's the game of basketball. You have so many different emotions on one team, you're going to have disagreements. It's not the first, it's not gonna be the last. You've just got to know how to respond to each other, and I think we always do a great job of that. ... All teams have them. But luckily, on our team, we talk it out and don't let it simmer for a long time."
Problem solved. Not that there was ever a problem to begin with.
Original Print Headline: Westbrook's fit overblown
Thunder up next
At Cleveland 6:30 p.m. Saturday
TV: FSOK-27 Radio: KYAL fm97.1
Friday's NBA summaries. B3
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook reacts after tying the score to force overtime during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013, in Denver. DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP Photo