OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook took plenty of heat for attempting 18 shots during the fourth quarter of Oklahoma City’s 115-111, Game 2 loss in Houston. But Thunder wing Andre Roberson doesn’t think he deserves the criticism.

“We’re gonna back Russ up no matter what,” Roberson said. “I don’t see any criticizing when he does make all the shots in the fourth quarter, so I’m gonna back him up when he does miss it. I don’t have anything to say bad about him. Keep telling him to keep shooting it. That’s what he does. Keep leading us. 

"He’s got my back 100 percent. I got his. So, that’s that.”

• Reaching back: Reporters consistently asked Thunder coach Billy Donovan all season if he thought Westbrook’s numbers were sustainable. More importantly, they wanted to know if one player taking on such a heavy offensive load was sustainable for an offensive attack. Donovan would always give some form of the same answer: 

“If we’ve gotta have him shoot 40, 44 times to be successful, I don't think that’s gonna work over the long haul,” he said back in November. “I think Russell knows that. He’s even made some comments about that.”

That specific answer was in reference to a high-volume game Westbrook had against Phoenix at the beginning of the season. It’s the game Donovan would consistently reference as the one example of offense that wasn’t sustainable for this team. 

Westbrook went for 51 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists on 17 of 44 shooting along with 2 of 10 3-point shooting in that Suns game. His line from Game 2 was almost identical: 51 points, 13 assists, 10 rebounds, 17 of 43 shooting, 2 of 11 on 3s. 

The situations, the contexts were different: The teams, lineups, strategy all different. But the similarities in how Westbrook played in those two games — indiscriminately chucking jumpers down the stretch, many from mid-range — deserves to be noted considering the Suns game was the one Donovan consistently reached back to as unsustainable. 

• Gibson’s minutes: Thunder starting power forward Taj Gibson has played only 21 minutes in each of the Thunder’s first two playoff games, an unexpected development considering starters’ playing time tends to increase come the playoffs. Donovan explained Thursday a main reason is because he likes fellow forward Jerami Grant as a more switchy defender at the 4 against Houston’s elite offense.

• New coverage: The Thunder switched more than they had all season on pick-and-rolls during Game 1 against the Rockets. They took a different approach in Game 2, switching sometimes, but also dropping big men back in certain pick-and-roll coverages and hedging or leveling in others. And for a team that just played its third different type of pick-and-roll coverage in as many games, Roberson says there’s one trait that’s most important.

“Communication is the biggest key,” he said. “I think habits carry over to the playoffs. They tweak a little bit, but for the most part, they stay the same…It's just, our pick-and-roll coverages change depending on who’s handling the ball and how we wanna manipulate it.”


Katz is the Thunder beat writer for the Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication, and CNHI Oklahoma as well as the host of the Locked on Thunder podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FredKatz.

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