Russell Westbrook is quickly becoming Public Enemy No. 1 in the NBA and it’s all LeBron James’ fault. Well, let me clarify: it’s the American public’s fault, because the American public has been on a crusade to anoint the angelic Kevin Durant as a reaction to their disdain for LeBron. In the process, they grow irrationally frustrated with Westbrook -- whom they characterize as a hindrance to Durant – and react by demonizing the kid’s play.
Westbrook blew it with his late-game foul that basically iced the game for Miami. It was a brain-dead play that you expect a point guard – of all the positions – to avoid. However, to boil OKC’s loss down to that one play and disregard everything Westbrook did to manically keep the Thunder in the game, is certifiably wacked-out.
Westbrook was an unequivocal force of nature in Game 4, his 43 points, seven boards and five assists a Finals instant-classic. Yet, there are louts out here echoing madman maxims like, “The Thunder can’t win when Westbrook plays that way.” No, knuckleheads, the Thunder can’t win when Durant plays the way he did. But we can’t hold KD responsible for Oklahoma City losses, can we? Nope.
Ever since The Decision, KD, through no fault of his own, has become the object of affection for much of the agenda-driven, anti-LeBron faction. These people see a gold halo radiating over KD’s head not only when he’s draining treys, but also when he’s standing on the wing, in pivotal moments, going invisible. America seems entirely incapable of saying anything legitimately disparaging about Durant or calling him to task when he clearly underperforms, so they point the finger at his snarling teammate, young Russell. It’s easy to stick some devil horns on such a destructive force that plays every minute of the game like he should be CGI’d Hulk-green.
No matter if it’s subliminal, this “blame Russ, to spare KD, to shame LeBron” rigmarole is a real thing. It’s not a rare thing, though. You can go back decades and identify players who were pitted against each other as America lionized one of them to make some quasi-moral statement/judgment about the other.
LeBron came into this league the same year a rape trial turned Kobe Bryant into a pariah. At the time, LeBron was the humble, pass-first savant that was everything the arrogant, ball-hogging, team chemistry-killing Kobe was not. Some years before that, Kobe was America’s favorite. He was the bilingual, non-tattooed, polished antithesis to Allen Iverson’s street-swag.
In the summer of 2010, America looked around, saw KD, the scoring champ, playing for little-engine OKC, a guy that “humbly” tweeted his contract extension – in stark contrast to The Decision – and said, “You’re our new guy. Now go make that other guy look bad for us.” America is on a mission. Holding KD to unbiased standards of excellence and greatness can sometimes counteract that mission, so Russ becomes the scapegoat.
In the wake of Game 4, Magic Johnson – after apologizing to Russ for getting temporarily brainwashed by the Blame Russ movement – said, “You can’t waste great performances in the Finals.”
That’s exactly what Durant and the Thunder did, though. There were several stretches of the second half and the all-important fourth quarter when Durant wouldn’t touch the ball. This was not Westbrook’s fault. Thunder coach Scotty Brooks, for one, is experiencing the same issues he had in last season’s Western Conference Finals against Dallas – he’s not putting KD in prime spots to get the ball. But KD is also getting man-handled, not just by the behemoth LeBron, but even Shane Battier.
There’s practically nothing you can/could do to keep Michael Jordan, Kobe, Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce or any of the other great scorers from getting the ball. When they want the ball, they get it, even if they have to take the ball. KD has shown the occasional inclination to wait for the rock. Well, guess what? Russ isn’t waiting around for Durant to takeover.
Russ is an obstinate S.O.B., though. He’ll enter Game 5 unaffected and unafraid, because he’s a G.
Meanwhile, Durant had two rebounds to go with a disappointing 28 points. The 28 points were disappointing, because a more engaged Kevin Durant could have easily had 35-plus. The guy is that good. But, of course, KD will escape widespread public criticism, because America needs him to stay on the pedestal they created once they gave LeBron the boot. That is not to suggest arbitrarily knocking Durant from his often deserved perch, but don’t, in turn, bury Russ six feet under.