|Durant deserves more from his fellow stars than a vanishing act. (Getty Images)|
SAN ANTONIO -- Russell Westbrook was wearing huge brown glasses after Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, glasses that were as showy and useless as he was during the game. See, his glasses had no lenses. I'm not telling you he was wearing clear lenses. I'm telling you, he had no lenses. Just huge brown frames. For show.
Which offers a certain symmetry, given the way Westbrook played for the Oklahoma City Thunder in their 101-98 loss to the Spurs on Sunday night. A three-point game? Sounds close. Sounds exciting down the stretch.
|More on Thunder-Spurs|
|More NBA coverage|
Westbrook and his partner in uselessness, James Harden, combined for 14 pointless points in the final 100 seconds of garbage time, turning a 94-84 game into something deceptively closer. Westbrook finished with 17 points, which were as utilitarian as his brown glasses. They were for show, those 17 points. That's all they were. And the same goes for Harden, who scored 19 cotton-candy points, empty calories for a nauseating scoreboard.
In all, Harden and Westbrook combined to take 38 shots to score their 36 points. They couldn't score efficiently, but by God they were going to score. What's the point of playing a big game on a big stage if you can't get yours, right? I have no idea if that's what Westbrook and Harden were thinking, but I'm positive that's how they were playing. They're capable of getting shots whenever they want, and as the game rolled along and their point totals stayed static, they started jacking up shots.
Never mind that, as the game rolled along, the Thunder were winning -- up by nine early in the fourth quarter.
Not good enough for Westbrook, which is no surprise. He dominates the ball without getting a lot of assists, which is close to impossible for an NBA point guard who plays alongside the league's leading scorer. For Russell Westbrook to play 35.5 minutes per game alongside 28-ppg scorer Kevin Durant and average just 5.5 assists per game, well, that's staggering. Allen Iverson's career assist average was 6.2, and he never played with a scorer of Durant's magnitude or efficiency. Plus he scored more than Westbrook.
Sounds like I'm saying Russell Westbrook is a bigger pig than Allen Iverson. Which I guess I am. On a game-by-game basis, Iverson looked around and knew, just knew, that he was the 76ers' best scoring option. Westbrook often thinks the same thing about himself, although he's playing with Kevin Durant and not Keith Van Horn.
Someone asked Thunder coach Scott Brooks about Durant's disappearance at the start of the fourth quarter Sunday night. At the time the Thunder led 73-64. The Spurs looked frustrated, and they looked old. Tim Duncan was missing layups. Tony Parker was turning the ball over. Danny Green was missing open 3s. Tiago Splitter was missing the rim on free throws. The Spurs were in trouble, and then Durant disappeared. So someone asked Brooks about Durant's issues in the fourth quarter, as if this was Durant's fault. Brooks would have none of it, coming close to throwing everyone else on the team, everyone but Durant, under the bus.
"Offensively we have sets that we have to run," Brooks said. "We have to run with good energy and we have to set screens and execute. ... It's a combination of everybody involved. It's a five-man offense."
Translation: That wasn't Durant's fault.
My take: It was Westbrook and Harden's fault. Hell, that isn't even an opinion -- that's a fact.
The Thunder led by nine early in the fourth when Harden dragged his enormous beard into the lane, got out of control and was called for charging. Westbrook missed a jumper, then attacked the rim and missed a difficult shot. Harden ran over Tony Parker for another offensive foul. Whose turn was it next? Oh, right. Westbrook. And here's what he did: He got close to the rim, but he got there with such speed and at such a tough angle that his shot caromed wildly off the glass, never touching the rim.
At the other end, Tony Parker was hitting a 15-footer.
The score was tied at 73.
Moments later the Spurs had taken a 75-74 lead on another Parker basket, but after Parker missed the free throw, a strange thing happened: The ball ended up in Durant's hands. And then something really peculiar happened: He wouldn't give it up.
Durant ignored Westbrook and dribbled up the court. Past the half-court stripe, Durant paused and Westbrook ran toward him from the corner. Durant impatiently waved Westbrook away, then went one-on-one before missing a tough 3-pointer. His finest moment? No. Of course not. But his patience had run out.
After the game Durant wouldn't address a question -- OK, it was my question -- about getting no shots as the game was spinning out of control in the fourth quarter.
"They helped off me," he said, referring to the Spurs' defense. "I'm just going to keep trusting in my teammates, keep believing in our system, no matter what people say. We'll be fine."
Well, maybe. Clearly the Thunder can play much better than they played in Game 1. But so can the Spurs. Duncan and Parker were 12-for-30 combined from the floor. Green and Kawhi Leonard were 3-for-15. Let's assume both teams are crisper in Game 2, making more, turning it over less. If that's the case, and I suspect it will be, we'll have slightly more efficient offenses Tuesday night but the same issue for Oklahoma City:
Why is Kevin Durant one of three primary scoring options on this team, instead of the primary scoring option?
Most of the time, it's a Russell Westbrook question. He's going to play his way, everyone else be damned. This time last year, Westbrook was so piggish that Brooks left him on the bench for the fourth quarter in Game 2 of the 2011 Western finals against the Mavericks, choosing to let backup Eric Maynor close out the game. Had Maynor been available Sunday night, the fourth quarter would have been different. Maynor would have replaced Westbrook, Durant would have gotten more shots, and the Thunder would have been closer than 94-84 in the final 100 seconds.
But Maynor is out with a knee injury, so the Thunder put the ball in the hands of Westbrook and Harden for the key stretch, those five minutes to start the fourth quarter when the three-time defending NBA scoring champion was being ignored by the guy with the cartoon beard and the guy with the empty glasses -- two guards with all-star style but, on this night, a decisive lack of substance.