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 Had the league not rescinded his tech, he would’ve likely cost his team a chance at the playoffs.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.
As the NBA season concludes, we are left to the all-important debate of who will win the NBA MVP award. Four contenders have emerged: Stephen Curry (PG, Warriors), LeBron James (SF, Cavaliers), Russell Westbrook (PG, Thunder), and, in my opinion, the real MVP, Rockets’ SG James Harden. There are many reasons to choose one of the other players on this list; for example, choose Curry for his electrifying display of shooting, passing and circus shots; choose James for how his team has played since he returned from myriad injuries in mid-January; or, you could choose Westbrook for his practically putting the entire OKC team on his back due to injuries to stars Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. But Harden is the best choice here.
Harden leads the league in points per game at 27.6. Part of this is that Harden leads the league in free throw attempts per game; this shows his aggression and ingenuity in crafting offense for his team. Before you go ahead and make the assumption that Harden is a selfish player, the Beard is also 9th in the league in assists per game at 6.9. Also, the supporting cast of Harden is not nearly as good as Curry’s: 3 of Curry’s four teammates in the starting lineup are having the best years of their careers, and Curry comprises only half of the league’s best backcourt, alongside Klay Thompson. Harden’s supporting cast? Jason Terry, filling in for injured defensive presence Patrick Beverley at the point, Trevor Ariza, who has been forced to emerge as a “second option” to Harden in the offense; Trevor is much better defensively. One of the players the Rockets depended on going into the season was Dwight Howard, but he has missed around half of the Rockets’ games this year with back injuries. And at power forward the Rockets use both Donatas Motiejunas and Josh Smith, who have both stepped up this year, but largely because of the attention opposing defenses have paid to Harden. However, Motiejunas is out for the season with a back injury.
This article is not meant to state that the Rockets will definitely win in the playoffs or that Harden will step up in those games. Out of the teams mentioned (GS, HOU, OKC, CLE) the Cavs are best suited for playoff success in my opinion. But Harden has displayed the best individual performance throughout this season, and I think he should be the league MVP.