There aren’t many times you’ll hear about a player scoring 54 points and hurting his team in the same game, but that’s exactly what Russell Westbrook did on Sunday.
Before I get to Westbrook’s crucial mistake, we need to take a moment to examine his full stat line. His career-high 54 points were obviously the highlight, he had another well-rounded game as well, adding nine boards and eight dimes. He also may have to spend Monday morning icing his arm, because he found a way to heave up 43 shots in 40 minutes.
Russ wound up going 21-for-43 from the field, including 5-for-15 from downtown and 7-for-11 from the charity stripe. According to Basketball Reference, that’s the most shot attempts in a game since Kobe Bryant took 44 back in 2008. But Westbrook also filled up another category if you look at the bottom of the box score — a technical foul. His 16th technical foul, which means Westbrook will be forced to sit out a game (unless the league rescinds the foul).
The one-game suspension couldn’t come at a worse time for the Thunder. OKC now owns a 43-37 record after losing to the Pacers (despite Westbrook’s performance), but sits in ninth place in the Western Conference. The Pelicans are in command of the eight-seed with an identical record, but own the tiebreaker with the Thunder. Now, with just two games remaining in OKC’s season, and some serious ground to makeup, their best player is going to be forced to miss their biggest game.
The Thunder host the Blazers on Monday, and are in desperate need of a win. At this stage, any OKC loss means that the Pelicans would have to drop both of their final two games just for the Thunder to have a shot. OKC wraps up its season on Wednesday night in Minnesota. The Pelicans have the same luxury of facing the Wolves on Monday, but will conclude their season with a tough game against the Spurs.
Westbrook got the tech for something he said to the ref after he was called for a foul in the fourth quarter. He knew exactly what he did. As soon as the whistle blew he began to wave his arms as if to say, “I know I can’t afford a technical, so there’s no way I said enough to earn one.”
Westbrook continued to plead his case to the officials for as long as he could, but the damage was done. The matter is now in the league’s hands. But when you think about it, it’s almost idiotic for Russ to be arguing calls at this stage of the season. He knew exactly where he stood. One more tech and he sits. And now, Westbrook has cost his team a shot at a game that they need as much as ever.
It would be over reacting to blame this one instant on the Thunder not making the playoffs if they do indeed fail to make it. It’s been a brutal season for OKC, to say the least. But at this stage, one simple foul call has taken the Thunder from having realistic odds of making the playoffs to slim.
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