Sunday’s loss by the Lakers to the Blazers was not Russell Westbrook’s fault, nor did he play a particularly large role in the loss. By the standards of Russ as a Laker, his performance was pretty much par for the course and even featured some decent defensive plays on the afternoon.
That was all before the final minute of the contest. With the Lakers leading by one and just under 30 seconds remaining, Russ pulled up for a mid-range jumper that clanked off the rim and to the Blazers.
Portland would subsequently take the lead on the next possession on a Damian Lillard 3-pointer and eventually win the game. As has often been the case for his time in LA, Russ became a lightning rod of criticism for the play.
After the game, Russ confirmed he was going for a 2-for-1, hoping to give the Lakers the final shot of the game. It’s a tactic more commonly used in a tied game and certainly not one by a team leading late in the game.
Head coach Darvin Ham backed his point guard to a certain extent, agreeing on the 2-for-1 decision but not on the shot selection.
“I just wish he would attack the rim,” Ham said. “Pat (Beverley) tried to set a little screen, Nurkic was in front of him coming back. In those moments, if you’re going to go 2-for-1, it has to be either you going downhill to attack the rim or you going downhill for a draw and a kick. I felt like he settled on that.
“You can make the debate to call timeout there or not. I’d rather not because, again, the 2-for-1 was at our advantage. But shot selection is something we have to work on, something we have to get better at as we move forward and understanding time and score and where you want to attack in those types of situations.”
The Lakers’ collapse in the fourth quarter was not entirely on Westbrook, nor was that shot the deciding factor. But as is often the case for Russ, his mistakes are very loud ones and draw the attention of everyone. Especially late in games, decisions are hyper-analyzed.
Westbrook continues to falter in that respect and continues drawing the focus of frustration. As has been the case for much of the last year-and-a-half, Westbrook is not entirely what is wrong with the Lakers franchise, but he’s the most glaring example of their shortcomings.