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In Game 3, the Thunder needed more wild Russell Westbrook

By Royce Young | NBA writer

MIAMI -- With Kevin Durant sitting and the Thunder sputtering in the third quarter of Game 3, it was Russell Westbrook time. As much as it really ever should or will be, the green light was on for Oklahoma City's fiery point guard. His time to take over, his time to carry the Thunder.

Except he wasn't on the floor.

After a silly charge that followed a turnover, a missed 3 and a forced missed layup, Scott Brooks decided to sit Westbrook down, to as Brooks put it, "settle him down."

"I took him out a couple minutes early just to settle him down, and put him right back in," Brooks said. "That's coaching, and we moved on. It's nothing against -- he had a bad stretch. He turned it over, and he took a tough lay-up."

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A teaching moment, maybe? A couple minutes to clear Westbrook's head for the fourth quarter? Granted, the Thunder held a six-point lead that was extended to 10 after an and-1 Derek Fisher 3, so maybe Brooks saw an opening to get Westbrook rest while also cooling him off. Clearly after Durant left the game with 5:41 in the third because of foul trouble, Westbrook tried a little too hard. So Brooks wanted to calm his speedy point man down.

The Heat turned a 60-54 deficit into a 69-67 lead in the final five minutes of the third. Brooks says he "put him right back in." Not exactly.

Not often do you see a time where Westbrook and Durant were both off the floor for the Thunder in the playoffs. But for the entire final five minutes of the third quarter, OKC played without its two best players. In Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

"You've got to rest the guys sooner or later," Brooks said. "It's hard to play guys -- you can do it occasionally, play them extended minutes. It's hard to play 24 straight minutes at the point guard spot, because every time you've got the ball or every time you're guarding the ball."

Westbrook: 39 minutes. LeBron and Dwyane Wade: 44 and 45 minutes, respectively. Rest is for July and August.

You want to settle Westbrook down? Take a timeout. Pull him over, let him breathe, talk him down. Don't bench him. Because he wasn't put "right back in," as Brooks says. He sat the final five minutes -- 300 seconds -- as the Heat came from 10 down to lead by two heading to the fourth.

Look at the play-by-play after Westbrook sat. Derek Fisher and-1 3-pointer. Serge Ibaka missed jumper. Kendrick Perkins missed free throws. Ibaka missed jumper. Ibaka one of two on free throws. Thabo Sefolosha missed 3. James Harden one of two free throws. Harden missed jumper. Fisher missed runner. Daequan Cook missed 3. Harden missed 3. Harden missed 3. All while LeBron and Wade did the bulk of the scoring in closing the quarter 15-3 for Miami.

"That's coach's call," Durant said of being sat down with four fouls. "I had four, I think, I want to say four or five minutes to go in the third, and we had a nice little rhythm going. I had a nice rhythm going on the offensive end, and for it to just stop like that by me going out of the game because of fouls is kind of tough."

Sitting Durant isn't the question. That makes sense. But sitting Westbrook? Wrong move. Now's not the time for teaching lessons. We've all heard that this Russell Westbrook, this often out-of-control maverick, is what helped get the Thunder to this point. Well, let him be himself.

Over the past few days, Westbrook has once again become a lightning rod for criticism as a vocal minority has pointed out his quesitonable decision-making, shot selection and all around reckless style of play.

But the Thunder could've used a little of that Westbrook crazy. He shot 18 times, scoring 19 points. Thing is though, with Durant battling foul issues, it should've been Westbrook's game to run. He should've been shooting 22, 24 or even 26 times. He should've been running wild, taking shots, attacking. He kind of tried to get that look going but when he did, Brooks sat him for it.

Westbrook is best in doses a lot of times. He can really get to cooking and completely run the game. He can own the floor, even as superstar scoring machine Durant stands idly by. Westbrook can get that midrange jumper when he wants it, post smaller guards, blitz the rim or just create. Sometimes all of that is clicking magically, sometimes it's not.

The Thunder were absent their two top offense players the final five minutes of the third and were punished for it. Brooks hoped to rely on James Harden, but his Sixth Man of the Year was suffering through an awful shooting night. As the Heat found points with ease, the Thunder didn't have an answer.

Again, kind of hard to argue with the thinking behind sitting him down. Westbrook was getting reckless and with his emotional past, it might've been best to try and refocus him for the fourth quarter. But a full five minute break? That's a long time to settle down.

"It's coach's decision," Westbrook said of being sat. "Got to live with it."

Also: Got to live with a 2-1 series deficit.

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