2012 NBA Finals Analysis: Did Russell Westbrook Cost Thunder Game 2?

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Although Kevin Durant was an absolute monster in game one of the NBA Finals, Russell Westbrook failed to properly utilize Durant and establish him as the most dominant force on the court in game two. Westbrook repeatedly highlighted the main criticism of his game, namely his lack of pure point guard skills and awareness. Westbrook jacked up forced shots early in the clock, and he routinely settled for off balance jumpers.

By halftime, Magic Johnson was so irate with Westbrook's play that he stated, "I was very disappointed in Russell Westbrook. That was the worst point guard in a championship finals I've ever seen. He was too wild, he was taking off balance shots. You gotta come out and set the tone with Kevin Durant, see what type of defense Miami was gonna play against them JB, then you can always get off Russell. Russell Westbrook has gotta set the tone with Kevin Durant."

Criticism like that from the greatest point guard ever cannot be taken lightly. Magic knows what he's talking about, and he called out Westbrook for his oblivious court presence, his errant drives, and his forced jumpers. Westbrook failed to get Durant the ball in his favorite spots, and in doing so, he thwarted an even stronger follow up from Durant in game two.

Magic Johnson rarely drops the hammer with harsh criticism, but his commentary on Russell Westbrook was warranted. Westbrook took seven shots in the opening quarter, compared to Durant's three, yet he only scored one more point than Durant. In doing so, Westbrook hindered Durant's impression upon the game. In his day, Magic made sure to feed the most dominant guy on the floor in his sweet spots, whether it was Kareem, Worthy, or a hot shooting role player. Unfortunately for the Thunder, Westbrook was not willing to distribute the ball to the three time scoring champion with the best jump shot in the NBA. Instead Westbrook dropped this stat line, 10-26, 2-6 from deep, for 27 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers. The line doesn't look that bad, but when your starting point guard attempts 26 shots, and only gets 27 points, something is not right. Everyone knows that Westbrook is not a traditional point guard, but that does not excuse the fact that Westbrook took four more shots than Durant to score five less points.

Durant finished the game strong by pouring in 16 points in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough to overcome a disastrous start that spotted the Heat sixteen points. With a 100-96 loss, the Thunder will surely look back with regret on that opening 18-2 run for Miami. Durant provided another monster game with his 12-22 shooting, 4-10 from deep, for 32 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. I have a feeling those numbers would have jumped up into the 40 point range if Durant had been given more opportunities early in the game. Even more disheartening is the prospect that Miami may not have reeled off such a big run if Durant had gotten touches. Following game one, I wrote, "In the end it will come down to which superstar takes over and puts his fingerprints all over the game." Game one belonged to Kevin Durant, and if not for Russell Westbrook, so would have game two.

Capitalizing on the assist from Westbrook's poor play, the Heat started the game with aggression and strong execution. Coach Spolestra made a significant change by starting Chalmers, Wade, James, Battier, and Bosh together for the first time all year, and it paid off. This lineup was able to spread the floor, handle the ball, and pass well.

Battier opened the game with a corner 3 following a drive and kick from Wade. Westbrook came down, danced, and missed a pull up jumper in and out from the elbow. Then Wade ran the pick and roll with LeBron and set him up for a layup. Westbrook clanked a contested jumper over Wade from the free throw line. Following a LeBron miss, Westbrook missed a turnaround bank shot from the mid block. Durant put the Thunder on the board with a sweet crossover on LeBron that led to a pull up jumper from the elbow. Wade responded with nice crossover and drive down the lane for a dunk. Following an errant kick out from Perkins, Bosh finished a layup in transition for the and one, but he missed the free throw. Westbrook came back down and sent a wild pass to Perkins in the lane that led to a bobble and a turnover. Chalmers stole the ball and sent the outlet to Wade for a dunk in transition. Westbrook responded with a strong drive to the rim, but he missed a tough contested layup over LeBron. Then Durant was stripped on his foray into the lane and Shane Battier ended up hitting a 3 from the wing in transition. Following a shot clock violation on the Thunder, LeBron hit a baseline turnaround hook over Durant to put the Heat up 18-2 with 4:50 on the clock.

Following LeBron's hook, ABC showed a clip of coach Brooks stating in a matter-of-fact fashion, "Guys, they are paying harder than us. There is no other way to explain it. They are playing harder than us. They came out looking to attack all of you guys. All of your pride has been attacked." Brooks was spot on. Miami executed with drive and kicks and pick and rolls that burned the Thunder, and they forced the Thunder into erratic offensive possessions that yielded low percentage results. In his call to arms, Brooks injected life into the team.

James Harden started it off with a catch and shoot from the far side 3, swish. LeBron responded with a hook over Durant in the lane, but Westbrook came right back and earned a trip to the line. Then Harden drove hard to the bucket and finished a layup. However, LeBron came right back and finished a reverse layup over Sefolosha. Westbrook responded with a layup following a touch pass from Collison in the lane. Then Harden hit a step back jumper over Haslem from 19ft. Following a LeBron miss, Sefolosha leaked out and went up for a dunk in transition. Sefolosha took a lot of contact on his attempt, but he was not awarded the call. In game one, Sefolosha benefited from two questionable foul calls on his transition dunks, but not this time. Sefolosha missed the dunk and Westbrook fouled Mike Miller in frustration. Miller sank the free throws. Harden closed the quarter with three free throws. Harden hit Collison at the far top key, faked diving to the rim, and instead took the handoff at the top for a 3. Harden was fouled on the shot, and he sank his free throws. On Miami's final possession, LeBron blew by Sefolosha to attack the rim, but Serge Ibaka rotated perfectly and swatted LeBron at the top of his dunk attempt.

The Thunder finished the quarter down 27-15. Durant went 1-3, 0-2 from deep, for 2 points, 1 block, and 1 turnover. Westbrook went 1-7 for 3 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist. Harden was spectacular with his 3-4, 1-1 from deep, for 10 points and 1 rebound. LeBron went 4-8 for 8 points, 1 rebound, and 1 steal. Wade went 3-6 for 7 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists. Bosh went 1-3 for 4 points and 3 rebounds. Overall, Miami's big three significantly outplayed OKC's in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, both teams played even and scored 28 apiece. None of the stars were exceptional, but Chris Bosh did provide a valiant effort on the glass. Bosh finished the quarter 3-6 for 6 points, 7 rebounds (4 offensive), 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block. Bosh's activity was instrumental in keeping the lead, and it was probably the most energy he has displayed since the first round.

Haslem started the quarter off with a putback following a LeBron miss. Ibaka followed with his own putback. After trading buckets for three minutes, Bosh hit a jumper from the near top key on a catch and shoot inbound play. Durant responded by setting up Ibaka for a reverse layup. Then Ibaka swatted Bosh on a drive to the rim, and Harden capitalized with a layup to cut the score to 35-25. Following a Miami timeout, Wade clanked a jumper and Ibaka hit a 21ft jumper from the near wing. Wade responded with a catch and shoot off a curl, and Durant countered with a pull up jumper from the near elbow.

Following a Chalmers turnover that caused Bosh to scream at him for failing to deliver the right pass, Bosh benefited from a dubious call. Wade attacked the lane and fed Bosh at the near block. Bosh went up for the shot, but Durant swatted him from behind. As the ball bounced off of the glass, Ibaka swatted it away. The refs called goaltending, but the call was incorrect. Durant's initial block should have negated the goaltending violation on Ibaka. Following a Durant wide open miss from 3, Wade hit Battier in semi-transition for a 3. Westbrook responded with his own 3, but Wade came right back and earned a trip to the line. Westbrook responded with a pick and roll with Durant. Westbrook hit the rolling Durant for a nice one handed dunk. Bosh answered with an offensive rebound and a putback dunk. Then Bosh swatted a Harden layup. He followed that up with a steal after an errant pass from Sefolosha in the lane. LeBron capitalized on the turnover for a lefty layup over Ibaka in transition. Following a forced Durant 3 that clanked, LeBron set up Chalmers for a wide open 3 that swished through the net. Durant usually does not force shots, but on a night when he was struggling to even get up attempts, I guess he figured he'd chuck one up. Westbrook answered with his own drive and kick that led to a Sefolosha 3. Then Westbrook earned a trip to the line and sank his free throws. On the ensuing possession, Harden hit a wide open 3 following a drive and kick and swing from Westbrook to Sefolosha to Harden. LeBron responded with a drive that led to free throws.

Westbrook closed the quarter with a nice attack to the basket that yielded free throws. After missing the first one, Westbrook high-fived his teammates, took a deep breath, shook his head side to side, and wiped his face. His mannerism was that of a guy struggling. He seemed to know that he needed to calm down and shake off his tough first half. The Thunder finished the half down 55-43. In the second quarter, Durant went 2-5, 0-3 from deep, for 4 points and 2 rebounds. Westbrook went 1-3, 1-1 from deep, for 6 points and 2 assists. Harden went 2-5, 1-2 from deep, for 7 points, 1 rebound, and 1 assist. LeBron went 2-5 for 6 points and 1 assist. Wade went 2-5 for 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, and 1 turnover. Bosh finished the half with a double-double, 10 points and 10 rebounds. Battier continued his exceptional shooting by going 3-4, all from deep, for 9 points in the half. Miami also scored 10 points on the fast break. Miami would not score another fast break point.

Heading into the third quarter, the ABC telecast showed a very interesting stat regarding the Heat. The stat stated that in 17 of 19 postseason games for Miami, the team that won the third quarter won the game. The Thunder would go on to win the quarter, but just by one point. That stat will now read 17 out of 20. The third quarter delivered exceptional performances from Durant and LeBron, as well as a strong bounce back for Westbrook.

Durant started the quarter off with a pick and roll that led to a 17ft jumper from the near top key. LeBron countered with a drive to the rim and a lefty layup. Durant responded with a setup for Ibaka that led to free throws. Then LeBron recovered his own blocked shot to score a layup. Westbrook responded with a 3, but LeBron came right back and earned free throws on a drive to the bucket. Durant parried with his own drive and free throws. Then Wade got involved and hit a 17ft pull up jumper from the far mid corner. Durant retorted with a curl and jumper from the elbow. Wade followed by driving the lane and kicking to Battier. With his man closing out strong, Battier blew by and got into the lane to finish a floater. Following a forced 3 from Westbrook that clanked, Wade used a Bosh pick to attack the middle and finish a lefty layup. Then Westbrook stepped out of bounds at the far side following a kick out. Westbrook made up for it on the next possession by driving and kicking to Durant in the far corner for a 3, swish. Battier responded with a 3 of his own following a post kick out from LeBron.

Following free throws from Perkins, and a strong drive from Westbrook, the score stood at 70-59 with 4:31 remaining. Miami immediately called timeout to stop the mini run. On the ensuing play out of the timeout, LeBron drove into the lane and sent an errant dump off pass. Sefolosha stole the pass, and Durant pushed up the court and attacked the rim. Durant finished the tough layup in traffic. LeBron came right back with an isolation on Durant from the top 3. LeBron drove right and drew the foul on Durant for free throws. This would be Durant's fourth foul. Following a swatted Westbrook layup, LeBron gathered an offensive rebound and earned a trip to the line. A minute later LeBron bulldozed his way into the lane and hit a tough running floater over Sefolosha. Westbrook responded with a coast to coast layup over LeBron. Then he scored on a two for one opportunity by pushing up the court and hitting a pull up jumper from the top of the key. However, Westbrook missed a 3 to end the quarter.

The Thunder finished the third quarter down 78-67. Durant went 4-4, 1-1 from deep, for 10 points and 1 turnover. Westbrook went 4-8, 1-3 from deep, for 9 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover. Harden had 2 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 turnover in his 5:39 of play in the quarter. LeBron went 3-5, 0-1 from deep, for 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. Wade went 2-5 for 4 points. Bosh had 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers. Although Westbrook shot 50% in the quarter, he should have given Durant more shots. If Durant had gotten eight shots instead of just four, he may have dropped around 16-20 points instead of just 10.

The fourth quarter featured a furious comeback by Durant and company that brought the game within two points in the final ten seconds. Westbrook started the quarter off with a 16ft pull up jumper from the near elbow. Then Nick Collison took a charge, but Fisher couldn't capitalize on the gained possession with an open 3. Following a Westbrook 3 that clanked to beat the clock, Durant picked up his fifth foul with 10:32 remaining while going for the offensive rebound. Coach Brooks wisely decided to keep his star player on the court. Durant responded by hitting a far wing 3 following a pick and roll set and assist from Harden. Then Chalmers bricked a 3 and Durant took the board coast to coast. Durant pushed up the far side, got to the far top, crossed left to right, put his head down, and attacked the basket with authority. Durant glided through the air and slammed home a sick one handed dunk all over Shane Battier to put the score at 82-74 with 8:20 remaining. Miami immediately called a timeout as the crowd erupted.

Following the timeout, Harden capitalized on a LeBron miss with a drive of his own that produced a layup. LeBron responded by dishing to Bosh for a dunk after Harden flopped to the floor. Then Westbrook set up Durant on a pick and roll that led to free throws. Durant sank both. Then Collison stole a pass and Westbrook finished the transition layup by jumping into LeBron and finishing the and one layup to cut the score to 85-81 with 6:05 remaining. Wade immediately countered with a 10ft fading bank from the far mid block. Harden responded with a strong drive and tough layup in traffic.

Then Shane Battier hit the luckiest shot of the game. The Heat had horrible spacing as they tried to run a double pick and roll for Wade at the top. As the play bogged down, Wade dumped the ball off to Chalmers at the near side 3 with six seconds on the clock. Chalmers took one dribble left, straight into a double, and he dumped the ball off to Battier at the near top 3 with four seconds on the clock. Battier caught the pass and fired up a desperate 3 that banked in as he fell to the ground. Although Durant came right back down and hit a 3 himself, the Battier shot buoyed Miami's confidence.

With a 90-86 deficit, Russell Westbrook may have committed his most egregious play of the game. After Bosh clanked a near corner 3, Westbrook took the board and pushed up the far side. As Westbrook brought the ball up, Durant stood wide open at the near wing. Durant called for the ball, but Westbrook ignored him and instead attacked the middle to the near mid block. Westbrook bricked an 11ft bank shot. Although he saw the best shooter on the floor wide open for 3, Westbrook decided to jack up a contested floating bank shot.

Following a Durant free throw that put the score at 92-87, Dwayne Wade hit, arguably, the clutchest shot of the game. LeBron ran the high pick and roll from the top, but he picked up his dribble about five feet behind the line. With the clock running down, LeBron hit Wade flashing at the dotted lines in the lane for a fading 11ft turnaround jumper. Jeff Van Gundy stated the obvious, "That was just a random cut that bailed them out." Although Wade hit the clutch shot, it became evident late in the game that Miami struggles running their offense in big moments.

Following the Wade shot, Westbrook and Durant took over. Westbrook started it off with a tough layup in traffic. LeBron tried to counter with a pick and roll, but once again, he picked up his dribble five feet behind the line, and this time his forced pass into the lane was stolen. Durant slid off of Battier and tipped the pass away from the rolling Bosh. However, Westbrook's lack of point guard ingenuity burned the Thunder once again. Westbrook pushed up the middle of the court as Durant flattened out to the near wing for a 3. Durant waited for the pass to come, but Westbrook dribbled obliviously and allowed Chalmers to catch up behind him and steal the ball. The Heat came down and LeBron ran down the clock again. This time LeBron pounded the ball, and dumped it off to Battier with just five seconds on the clock. With nowhere to go, Battier bulldozed baseline and forced a dump off to Wade in the lane. Durant stripped the ball from Wade. Westbrook pushed up the middle of the court with Durant sprinting the far wing. Westbrook wisely gave the ball up to Durant, and Durant attacked the basket. Durant missed the tough reverse layup, but Westbrook followed the play with a spectacular tip dunk to make the score 94-91 with 1:47 remaining.

Miami immediately called timeout and I'm sure coach Spolestra of the Heat told LeBron to stop playing hot potato with the ball. If Wade's shot wasn't the clutchest, then this one sure was. LeBron utilized an isolation on Sefolosha from the far wing. Dribbling with his left hand, LeBron performed a half crossover inside-out-dribble to attack baseline to the far mid wing and hit a floating 16ft bank shot. The shot was spectacular, and it was contested well. Then Wade setup Bosh for a dunk following a high pick and roll with LeBron to put the score at 98-91 with 53.8 seconds remaining.

However, Kevin Durant would go out swinging. Durant finished a layup over LeBron to cut the deficit to five. Then Fisher came up with a steal in a full court press that led to a Durant 3 from the far wing. As Wade shook Sefolosha in the backcourt, Fisher rode his hip and poked the ball away. Harden recovered it, and sent the pass up to Sefolosha at the near mid wing. Sefolosha swung to Westbrook at the near top 3, and Westbrook wisely (and finally!) kicked the ball to Durant. Westbrook actually hesitated before he passed the ball, and it almost cost him as Bosh came just a fingernail short of stealing the pass. Durant's 3 put the Thunder down 98-96 with 37.5 seconds remaining in the game.

With the game on the line, LeBron James held the ball in his hands. LeBron wound down the clock. Then he settled for a pull up contested 3 over Sefolosha that totally bricked. To say the least, the shot was passive.

Coach Brooks immediately called timeout with 12 seconds left in the game. Because of the timeout, the ball advanced up the court on the sideline. Although Brooks set up a play, Fisher noticed that LeBron was not paying attention, so he inbounded to Durant at the near block. Durant caught the pass, turned baseline, took one dribble, and went up for a running jumper. The shot came up short. Russell Westbrook nearly grabbed the offensive rebound, but LeBron came up with it.

At first the play looked innocent, but upon further examination, it was apparent that the refs blew the call. As Durant caught the ball and went up for the shot, LeBron clearly locked up his right arm and rode it the entire time up until the shooting motion. However, because the ref on the baseline was watching the play with a nine o'clock angle, he could not see the right arm contact. The ref only had a view of the left side and the back of Durant. Later on SportsCenter, former NBA official Steve Javie stated that the ref was out of position to make the call. Javie stated that the ref needed to move to a different position on the baseline in order to make the correct call. A one or two o'clock angle would have been perfect, but it never happened. Even worse, after Durant missed, Westbrook got his left hand on the ball for an offensive rebound, but LeBron got away with grabbing Westbrook's wrist and disengaging the hand from the ball. Westbrook immediately yelled at the ref, "Call the foul man, f***!". After watching the Durant replay, Jeff Van Gundy stated, "That's illegal contact, that's a foul. At that angle, there's no question, that's a foul." Unfortunately for the Thunder, the whistle never blew.

LeBron sank his two free throws with seven seconds left, and the Heat won 100-96.

Despite catching fire in the fourth, Kevin Durant could not rally the Thunder to victory. Durant finished the quarter 5-9, 3-4 from deep, for 16 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 steals. Westbrook finished 3-7, 0-2 from deep, for 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. Harden finished 2-2 for 4 points and 1 turnover in his 12 minutes of play. LeBron provided an interesting quarter. LeBron was clutch and anti-clutch the entire quarter. In the closing moments he had one big shot and two huge free throws, but he also shied away from the moment and passed off the ball to teammates in unfavorable situations, such as late in the clock. LeBron finished the quarter 1-4, 0-1 from deep, for 6 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 turnover. Wade was money with his 3-4 for 7 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. Bosh was decent with his 2-4, 0-1 from deep, for 6 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 block.

Overall, the Thunder let this one slip away. They spotted Miami sixteen points, and they lost by just four. I'm sure the Thunder regret the play of their opening seven minutes. Despite the lackadaisical opening, the Thunder came back strong on the heels of "Kid Clutch." Unfortunately for the Thunder, Durant got whacked on the biggest play of the game and he couldn't deliver the goods. After the game, Durant adamantly stated, "I missed the shot man," when he was asked about the play. He never mentioned a foul. He never accepted the fact that he was fouled. All he focused on was that he had control of the outcome and he missed the shot. That is the mark of a great one right there. Durant is well within his right to call out the refs for blowing a call in the final seconds of an NBA Finals game, yet he refrained and put the blame upon himself. I have a feeling Kevin Durant is going to blow up with a ridiculous redemption game in Miami.

With the series tied up 1-1, the Thunder are in a world of hurt. Now they have to steal a game in Miami in order to keep the series alive. And, if they do steal a game, that will still put them down in the series when they come back to Oklahoma City for the possibility of games six and seven. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are going to have to go bonkers for the Thunder to have a chance. Hopefully next game Russell Westbrook will remember that the best player on the team wears number 35.

In the end, it wasn't necessarily the superstars of the Heat that outplayed the superstars of the Thunder. Dwayne Wade dropped 24 points on 10-20 shooting, along with 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, and 3 turnovers. LeBron James finished 10-22, 0-2 from deep, for 32 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 2 turnovers. Chris Bosh finished 6-13, 0-1 from deep, for 16 points, 15 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 2 blocks, and 2 turnovers. The three of them combined to go 26-55 for 72 points. Although Westbrook struggled, the big three of OKC went 29-59 for 80 points. With the big three canceling each other out, the outcome turned to the role players. While Ibaka, Perkins, Sefolosha, Fisher, and Collison combined to go 5-20 for 16 points, Battier, Chalmers, Miller, Jones, Haslem, and Cole went 10-21 for 28 points. Usually role players play better at home, but in game two, the role players of the Thunder failed to produce. However, if you scratch out Battier's 6-8, 5-7 from deep, for 17 points, then maybe the outcome would have been a bit different. Either way, the Thunder cannot expect to win if their role players are being outplayed by the role players on the Heat.

In a game of stars, it seems like this one came down to the other guys. Or maybe it just turned out that Russell Westbrook cost his team a victory. Whatever you believe, it won't change the score.

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