A rainy Sunday in Seattle made it easy for me to do what I was going to do anyway: Sit on my couch and watch basketball. It was an alpha and omega situation in Chicago and Oklahoma City. OKC ended the blue collar fairytale from Memphis while the Bulls (rolling ten-deep) owned the boards and the opening game in Chicago.
Between the two games, there were three players from the All-NBA first team, two from the second team and one from the third. MVPs, global icons, scoring champs—Sunday had all of the above. Kevin Durant, Scotty Brooks and Russell Westbrook finally achieved offensive continuity. The result left everyone smiling and shaking hands: Durant scored 39 points on 25 shots while Russell tamed his inner rebel and tossed up an effortless triple double. 33% shooting is a lot easier to swallow when you’re only putting up twelve shots in a game compared to the 24 shots per game Russell took in OKC’s playoff losses. Up north, Derrick Rose led the Bulls like he’s done all year. The bigs did the dirty work on the offensive glass, but Rose extended Thibodeau’s game plan from the white board to the court.
I went with “We Are Not the Same” as the title because I was thinking about that scene in Falling Down when Michael Douglas is caught up with the neo-Nazi in the army surplus store who eventually tries to relate to Douglas’s character with the classic creepy “You and me, we’re the same” line. Some part of Westbrook is feeling that when he sees Rose play and get the national recognition. He identifies with Rose and based on age (born forty days apart), build (both 6’3”, both roughly 190lbs), athleticism, stats, or abilities, it’s easy to see why. Of course, Michael Douglas’s character ends up creating a clear distance between himself and the neo-Nazi and responds with the stern “We are not the same.” Just because Douglas’s character was in the midst of a mental breakdown, it didn’t include any change in his core values or persona.
So it goes with Russell and Rose—they are not the same. I wrote that Russell’s potential as an NBA point guard might be something akin to Rose’s 2011 MVP season. But there’s the unsettled darkness behind Russell’s eyes—he picked up three techs on unexpected outbursts in this series. If memory serves, the outbursts were all directed at the opposition instead of the refs. Rose’s temperament is something different. I’ve seen him stand up for his teammates or himself and mix it up a bit, but with more Ricky than Doughboy in him.
The variance in temperament coupled with Rose’s clear definition in Chicago versus Westbrook’s splitting identities in Oklahoma is where the schism occurs. I’m revisiting some of the topics from my post last week, but I’m trying to understand this as much as the next NBA fan. Rose and the occasionally offensively-challenged Bulls are comfortable with their roles and portray classic basketball archetypes; from the wild child agitator in Noah to the white boy with a sweet jumper in Korver and it all comes together perfectly. Today, OKC found harmony and it was in large part because Russell channeled his furious energies into rebounding the ball and knocking the defense off balance with his drives and passing. It helped that his teammates shot well from the perimeter and Durant was able to go backdoor for a couple of easy buckets, but pass first Russell saw the openings with Chris Paul vision. I read something years ago where a writer was talking about Christian Laettner and Michael Jordan and said the worst thing Laettner ever did was prove to MJ that he was capable of being a player (happened when Laettner was playing with the 92 Dream Team). After that, MJ knew what he could do and was understandably disappointed in Laettner’s lack of ability when they played together in Washington years later. Performances like the one Russell put up on Sunday are the reasons that his forays into 12-30 madness are so frustrating. We know what he’s capable of and it’s somewhere between Oscar Robertson and Derrick Rose—that’s a hell of a place to be.
The only logical place for us to unearth the Russell/Rose secret is the NBA Finals. Playing against his doppelganger on the biggest stage in the basketball world would be the best finals point guard matchup since Magic vs. Isiah (did they even guard each other?). In between now and then, we’ve got anywhere from four to seven more nights of the Russell variety show. And if the current unpredictability continues, I’ll have to rename this blog to something like Between Laughter and Tears, starring Russell Westbrook.