With Westbrook exhausted (he led his team while playing all but three minutes) and the Thunder trailing by three, he committed a mental-error foul with only 14 seconds remaining and about four seconds remaining on the shot clock. The textbook play for the Thunder: Permit the Heat to take a rushed shot and, hopefully, get the ball back in time to attempt to tie the score.
Granted, Westbrook erred in forgetting the shot clock had not been reset. The Thunder, however, didn’t lose because of his mistake.
Still, many of Westbrook’s critics took to Twitter to blast him again as if that were their full-time jobs. The jabs ranged from downright ridiculous (some suggested Westbrook was actually trying to help the Heat win the series) to simply mean-spirited (that “0” was both his jersey number and IQ).
Lost in the nonsensical cyberspace chatter was the fact that Westbrook scored 11 consecutive points in one Jordan-like stretch of the fourth quarter to tie the score. He had 17 of the Thunder’s 23 total points (Kevin Durant scored the other six) in the fourth.
But the critics seem to forget something: Without Westbrook’s curtain-call-worthy performance, his team may have been blown out.
As LeBron James could attest, though, facts rarely matter in today’s digital court of public opinion.
The 24-hour news cycle has spawned an instant-analysis environment in which superstar athletes are categorized as either villains or heroes, as much for their personas as their performances. Those assigned to the wrong list are dissected with microscopic focus by sports reporters and fans, who then express anger about all they’ve uncovered.
Shedding a negative label is often harder than winning a championship, because reporters and fans seem to forget superstars are human beings, too. We all make mistakes — and many of us actually learn from them and grow.
It has taken James nearly two years — and a postseason performance that Bill Russell would be proud of — to slowly improve his black-hat-wearing image.
Anyone who understands the game knows that James has not simply played well during the playoffs. He has dominated the Heat’s opponents like a lion battling a gazelle.
If James actually wins his first title (the Heat has a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven championship series), the haters would lose their biggest talking point. Almost as if on cue, Westbrook is filling the void.
Throughout the playoffs, Westbrook has been blasted for his shot selection and decision-making while directing the Thunder’s offense. Every postgame television critique of the Thunder opens with what Westbrook has done wrong.
To hear some of the talking heads tell it, it’s almost as if the team would be better off if Westbrook immediately went on vacation.