Winning Game 2 of the Western Conference finals May 19 on the road should have been a feel good story for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead, most of the discussion afterward was focused on a single negative aspect.
During the fourth quarter, in which the team expanded a onepoint advantage to a lead of as much as 10, All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook watched from the bench. Despite being perfectly healthy, head coach Scott Brooks never motioned for him to return to the game after a disastrous end to the third quarter.
With 29 seconds remaining in that third stanza, Westbrook turned the ball over and then made a frustration foul. When Eric Maynor immediately subbed in, Westbrook went to the bench in a snit, complaining loudly.
Whether the complaints were about the timing of his break, the play of his teammates or how the ending of Lost made no sense, none of us are privileged to such information. All we know is that Russ played no more that night.
So, while the game announcers harped on No. 0s absence and projected their feelings as intimate knowledge of how the deposed starter was handling the situation, Maynor was playing masterfully.
In fact, all the bench players who made up the crunch-time
five played beautifully and they were all bench players, except for
Kevin Durant (who scored just four points in the frame). Kendrick
Perkins sat the entire time, Serge Ibaka only played the final minute
after Nick Collison fouled out, and Thabo Sefolosha came in for a
specific defensive possession.
the only starter whose time off was thoroughly discussed was Westbrook.
Yet the guy who replaced him was the guy who was most justified in
playing extended minutes.
did everything the team needed from him: He was cool and poised
bringing the ball up the floor, found the right guys to have the ball in
their hands, played solid defense on the Mavericks strong backcourt
and made a couple of floaters.
Most importantly, for the game, the Thunder outscored Dallas by 18 points when Maynor was on the floor.
while the most interesting narrative may have revolved around how a
young star was handling discipline being meted out by his coach, it
would have been more apt to focus on how the reserve came to the rescue.
Matthews is an editor of the local blog TheLostOgle.com.