One of the lasting images from Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals isn’t Kevin Durant’s hellacious dunk over Brendan Haywood. It’s not James Harden and his beard hitting incredible, clutch shots time and again to help the OKC Thunder steal a win in Dallas.
Nope. It’s the television camera continuously panning over to Russell Westbrook, the Thunder’s unquestioned #2 star, sitting out the entire fourth quarter as his head coach Scott Brooks made the gutsy (and surprising) decision to stick with backup Eric Maynor at the most critical moment of the season.
According to Westbrook, as long as the team was winning, he had no problem watching the action from the bench.
From The Oklahoman:
At crunch time in Game 1 on Tuesday night, Russell Westbrook was missing shots. At crunch time in Game 2 on Thursday night, he was missing in action. Despite logging 0:00 in the final quarter, Westbrook insisted he couldn’t have been happier after the Oklahoma City Thunder captured home-court advantage with a 106-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks before a hushed sellout crowd of 21,051 inside the American Airlines Center.
“When we’re winning, I’m good,” Westbrook said … Several times in his interview session, Westbrook was asked if he had a problem with not being put back into the game. “I’m just sitting there waiting to get my name called. We was winning, man,” Westbrook said. “You all want to ask the same question and I’m going to give you all the same answer – ‘We was winning.’”
“We were making shots,” Brooks explained. “I didn’t want to mess with the rhythm. I usually will sub him (Westbrook) in. Very rarely have I ever done that since Russell has been here. “The decision, really, was (because) Eric was playing well. It had nothing to do with Russell. Eric was playing good basketball, solid basketball for us. We were increasing the lead.” Even when the Thunder lead dwindled from 10 down to four with 1:03 remaining, Brooks stuck with Maynor. “The temptation was there when they cut (the lead) to six and we had to call a timeout,” Brooks admitted. “I believe in all of our guys. Some guys get more minutes than others, but they have to play hard and they do.” Asked how rewarding it was to have his coach show so much confidence it him at such a crucial time, Maynor shrugged it off. “Coach has confidence in all of us, not just me,” Maynor said.
It’s not the first time that a star player has ridden the bench in the fourth quarter of a huge Playoff game. Russell Westbrook will have plenty of opportunities to prove he can bounce back as the series shifts to OKC.