Before we all gang up on Russell Westbrook for throwing a tantrum on the bench during the Thunder-Grizzlies game on TNT Thursday night, let’s listen to the responses of his coaches and teammates.
Kevin Durant said was just a disagreement. ”This is the game of basketball,” Durant told the Associated Press. “You have so many different emotions on one team. You’re going to have disagreements. It wasn’t the first. It’s not going to be the last. ‘You’ve just got to know how to respond to each other. I think we always do a great job of that.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks chimed in and said he took Westbrook out of the game after his blowup and then once his All-Star point guard calmed down he returned to the court without any incidents and order was restored.
“It was nothing,” Brooks told AP. “He just had to regroup. … It was nothing that has not happened before – not just with him, with all of our guys.”
The outburst occurred in the third quarter with OKC ahead of Memphis by double digits. Westbrook started sniping with his teammates after a possession when he posted up along the left side of the lane and eventually got called for a turnover when Jerryd Bayless stuck with him on defense for 5 seconds.
Westbrook then spiked the ball and appeared to be gesturing toward teammates Thabo Sefolosha and Durant that they needed to get open. He then hollered toward coach Scott Brooks on the bench and refused to join the huddle during a timeout. Cameras caught Westbrook screaming at assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and was seen slamming one of the chairs at the end of the bench. He walked off to the tunnel and when he returned he had a towel over his head.
Westbrook described it as ”just a little miscommunication.” Brooks said it was an offensive play that went awry. Sefolosha acted as though nothing happened. Obviously something happened because it took a few minutes before the highly combustible Westbrook could compose himself.
TNT reporter Craig Sager asked Westbrook if needs to control his temper more, and Westbrook responded with, “I control it like a man.” Sager followed with “do you put it behind you and go ahead and win?” Westbrook gave him a terse: “If that’s what you say, bro.”
The best part of the TNT clip was the way Charles Barkley explained why Westbrook was so mad. Barkley said: “I think I know what happened. When he left home this morning, and it was dark, and he realized at halftime that he would have to put that shirt on.”
Whether it’s his loud shirts or his loud screams after dunks, Westbrook is fueled by his emotions. Perhaps no player in the league depends on raw emotion more so than Westbrook. His passion and energy is what makes him one of the best players in the game. Now, what he did on the bench was unacceptable, but he’ll learn to deal with that better as he matures. He’s just 24 years old.
Westbrook is like that wild thoroughbred in the stable. You don’t want to fence him in. Let him roam free so he can run wild and wreak havoc. Let him be himself and let him figure things out on his own. He’s a smart, deeply religious guy who has never had any major off-the-court issues. He cares deeply about winning, so why curb his enthusiasm.
It was a mini-implosion no question by the defending Western Conference champions right in the public eye. But when disputes arise, Durant said the Thunder know how to ”talk it out and don’t let it simmer for a long time.”
Just like what Durant said, it won’t be the last time Westbrook will have a meltdown. The Thunder have seen this movie before and they know how it ends.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastbreak.net. Follow him on Twitter @onemanfastbreak.