I don’t consider myself a hater.
A hater is someone who hates irrationally. It doesn’t matter how the subject of said hatred performs, the stream of hate train will come steamrolling in regardless.
While I may hate players for certain reasons, I can still appreciate what they do on the court as a basketball fan. Case in point: Russell Westbrook. In my NBA Hate List, I used the following to describe him:
Westbrook is a child trapped in a man's body. He throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get his way, commits stupid fouls in retaliation, and takes bad shots that he could chuck up whenever he wants to. If I were to make a bottom 10 low basketball IQ list, Russell Westbrook would definitely be #1 with nobody even close to challenging his throne.
He is the primary reason why I didn't and still don't think the Thunder will make it to the finals this year. He is the main reason why I don't think the Thunder will ever win an NBA championship. But here's his one shot for redemption: if OKC somehow makes it past the Spurs and beat the Heat, then he will instantly be taken off of this list, and you will never hear me utter another negative word about him. Please, Russell -- I'd love to be wrong here.All this is not to say that I shake my head every time Westbrook touches the ball. I don’t. He made great decisions throughout game 4 and was relentless on the offensive end. I thought he had the game of his life, and unfortunately, one of the lasting images of his night was his foolish foul on Chalmers with the shot clock winding down to clinch the game. Does me criticizing that foul mean that I blame him for the entire loss? No, of course not. He had one of the best performances in the Finals we’ve ever seen. Then who exactly should shoulder most of the blame?
James Harden could be a culprit. During game 4, I tweeted:
I hope @dmorey is watching the NBA Finals so that he doesn’t make the mistake of giving James Harden a max contract.If the clanking of wide open jumpers wasn’t bad enough, Harden decided to add some terrible turnovers on drives to his resume. Oh and a blown breakaway layup. This series would look completely different if he could return to his old self.
Some would say Kevin Durant deserves the blame, seeing as he is their best player. I may have to go back to the tapes to see where he could be called tentative on offense in game 4, but in my opinion, he knew Russell was feeling it and allowed him to ride out the hot streak. If anything, I would blame Durant somewhat for not calling out the defensive switch to guard LeBron James earlier in the game, when it became apparent to everybody and their mothers watching the game that the 3-time MVP was having his way with Harden in the low post. But as with most defensive schemes, matchups, and strategies...
...That should reside with the head coach, Scotty Brooks. I’m still trying to figure out what exactly the Thunder’s defensive plan was. With the offense going through LeBron in the post, you can’t just have James Harden guarding him one-on-one. Bron is 6’8” 250. The Beard is 6’5” 220. If this is the option you’re taking, you’re setting up your guy to fail. On the instances that they did bring a double team, it wasn’t a hard double team, and there was little to no rotation from the weak side to help the doubler, resulting in uncontested 3’s. I understand that it's almost impossible to stop LeBron from hurting you, but you gotta choose the lesser of two evils. If you're going to defend him one-on-one in the post, put a guy with length on him who might be able to stand half a chance. If you're going to bring a double team, make it as difficult as possible for LeBron to pass out of the double team. Too many times in game 4 the help defender was left in no-man's land -- halfway contemplating staying at home on a shooter, halfway thinking about going to double team. LeBron saw the defense sagging a bit and focused on him, and he lasered a pass to the open shooters for the J.
Something has to change before game 5. The Thunder came out on fire and with a sense of purpose in the first quarter of game 4, but they seemed to just as quickly lose that energy with the start of the second. Personally, I’m hoping Brooks finally realizes that Perkins is completely out of place in this series and just goes with a platoon of Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison at center, but I’m pretty sure I’ll hear Perk’s name in the starting lineups again. Overall, 3-1 series lead and all, this NBA Finals has been the most entertaining one in recent memory. If I didn’t hate the Heat so much, I would have bet on the Heat to win the series when people actually considered them underdogs.
As I have said all along, the Miami Heat should win this series. They have the greatest player in the world, and now my greatest fear is becoming a reality: LeBron is finally playing like he knows it. This is something completely different than anything we saw during last year’s Finals. LeBron James has taken the next step, and it pains me to say it, but he’ll be crowned with his first championship within a week [reverse jinx, one time, please].
Photo courtesy of Lynne Sladky/AP