Russell Westbrook had 54 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists last night in the Thunder’s 116-104 loss to the Indiana Pacers. The team is fighting and tied in the standings with the New Orleans Pelicans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the stacked Western Conference, and even though the Pels lost last night as well, New Orleans still owns the tiebreaker between the two teams. Something else about Westbrook’s performance? He received his 16th technical foul of the season for arguing with referee Ed Malloy after running over Luis Scola on a screen. The 16th technical automatically would have resulted in a 1-game suspension for Westbrook for tonight’s all-important game against Portland. However, the NBA announced that they reviewed the play and decided to rescind the technical today. Westbrook is playing tonight.
What’s most important to understand about Westbrook getting to 16 technicals is that he knew that going into the game. When Malloy gave the T to Westbrook, he seemed to almost be pleading with the referee, repeatedly pulling his uniform over his jersey and even putting his arm around Malloy at one point. Putting Westbrook out of his team’s biggest game of their season would give Oklahoma City little to no chance to win the game, thus almost deciding the game before it was even played. If the Thunder lose tonight and the Pelicans win, the Thunder are eliminated. The league should not be allowing referees decide games; college basketball has shown us that the refs can be just as important as the players sometimes. Just like referees always “swallow the whistle” at the ends of games, they should also be judicious with their technicals as games become more important.
All this being said, Westbrook is super lucky. Had the league not rescinded his tech, he would’ve likely cost his team a chance at the playoffs. We would all be talking about how “crazy” and “over-aggressive” he plays the game. But with the Thunder injuries recently, they wouldn’t be in this position if he didn’t play that way.
Let’s thank the NBA for allowing him to play this way, and for letting these two teams decide their own fates.