Updated: June 16, 2012, 1:03 AM ET

1. Why The Blame Game Errs On Westbrook

By Israel Gutierrez

We're two games into a wildly intriguing NBA Finals, featuring probably the two best teams in the league and almost definitively the two best players in the league.

Add to that the style being played -- both teams preferring the up-tempo style with the threat of a breathtaking play every possession -- and what we want is perfection.

We want every player playing at his absolute best to decide it all. And when we don't get exactly that -- the absolute best, particularly from the six biggest names in this series -- we want to assign fault.

Russell Westbrook
Mark D. Smith/US Presswire

Game 1, because the Heat lost, was Dwyane Wade's fault. This is a relatively new conversation, the one about Wade's game regressing, his athleticism leaving him and his knees betraying him. At least it's new because no one wanted to acknowledge until now that one of the game's best might -- and this is still just "might" -- be firmly on the downside of his career in only the second year of the Super Friends.

Game 2, because the Thunder failed to complete a tremendous comeback, was Russell Westbrook's fault. This is an old conversation. Old and tired. Old and wrong, frankly, because it always comes back to one place -- that Westbrook should play more like a point guard and less like, well, himself.

Just the idea of this argument should carry little to no weight given that the Thunder are in the NBA Finals, three wins from a championship, with a core so young it almost defies the natural laws of the NBA.

And the argument, whether it's narrowed down to Game 2 of the Finals or distributed throughout the length of his brief career, is unfair to a player who, as is, remains just as important to his team as Wade is to his.

Before we get to the specifics of Game 2, let's compare the two blame game discussions so far in the Finals.

When Wade went 7-of-19 from the floor for 19 points, eight assists and four rebounds in Game 1, the prevailing thought was that Wade needs to be more efficient. That he needs to provide relief for LeBron James, and, given that his explosiveness is lacking at the moment, he simply needs to find more makeable shots and do away with the high-degree-of-difficulty attempts.

Sounds reasonable enough.

Now compare that to the conversation driven by Westbrook's performance.

When he finishes 10-of-26 from the field for 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, it's not just that he needs to find a way to make, say, four more of those shots to turn an OK performance, by his standards, into a phenomenal performance.

No, for Westbrook, it means he has to change his entire approach to the game. That he has to play like a traditional point guard, even though he didn't enter the league as a traditional point guard and has succeeded at that position nonetheless.

Never mind that Westbrook had better overall numbers in Game 2 than Wade did in Game 1. Never mind that his shots, primarily pull-up jumpers on which he gets high enough to take any defender out of the equation, aren't as difficult as some of the attempts Wade tries on a nightly basis.

No, Westbrook still is being asked by outsiders to change his game because of the tiny box he's shoved into by playing the point guard position.

Yes, Westbrook has a teammate who might end up being the best scorer his position has ever seen. But Westbrook is just as important to the Thunder's success because of his explosiveness, his energy on both ends of the floor and, yes, even his shot-making.

So let's look back to Game 2 and see whether there's any compelling evidence to support this notion about Westbrook.

He started the game 2-of-10. Fine, but Kevin Durant was just 3-of-9 in the first half, and it wasn't as if Westbrook continually missed his open teammate.

For those who preferred Westbrook defer to a red-hot James Harden at the start, it would appear to make sense.

But if you haven't noticed, a lot of Harden's scoring comes from plays on which he's handling the ball. He creates most of his opportunities off the dribble in the pick-and-roll game.

So if the Thunder were to continue feeding Harden's hot hand, it was the coach's responsibility to call the proper plays, not for Westbrook to force the ball in Harden's direction.

Now check that second half, the one in which the Thunder made a furious rally.

Westbrook was doing something right, because he was 8-of-16 for 18 points in the second half.

Those are strong numbers no matter whose name they're next to.

It just so happens Durant one-upped his teammate by going old-school "NBA Jam" "He's on fire!" hot. Durant scored 26 of his 32 points in the second half on 9-of-13 shooting.

But five of those nine field goals were assisted by, guess who, Westbrook.

That's not a bad half when you can manage to put up 18 points while helping keep your team's hot hand scorching.

And yet, somehow, Westbrook remains the biggest culprit in what was a classic battle between two loaded basketball teams. Is there nowhere else to look?

Should we just ignore that a front line of Durant, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka was matched in the rebounding department by Chris Bosh alone (15 to 15), despite the Heat's other two frontcourt players being 6-foot-8?

Should we just assume the Thunder's slow starts are Westbrook's fault, too?

Fact is, the Thunder's big three played better collectively in Game 2 than they did in Game 1. The difference was the Heat's main characters simply did more.

This isn't dismissing Westbrook's performance the rest of the Finals, either.

The numbers gathered by ESPN Stats & Information show Westbrook's aggressive style helps the Thunder.

This season, including the playoffs, the Thunder have a better record (29-8) and score more points per 100 possessions (109) when Westbrook has more field goal attempts than Durant. When it's the other way around, the Thunder average 106.1 points per 100 possessions and are 27-14.

Judge by usage rate, and the numbers tell you the same thing. When Westbrook's usage is higher, the Thunder score 108.8 per 100 possessions and are 38-11, while those drop to 106.3 and 22-12 when Durant's is higher.

Those numbers go even deeper in this TrueHoop entry.

Frankly, there's only one person anyone should look to when trying to decide whether Westbrook is trying too hard: Durant.

He's considered an ideal leader, especially at his young age of 23. So you would presume Westbrook would have heard a harsh word or two from Durant if he felt Westbrook should have handled matters differently.

You didn't see that from Durant. And chances are, they didn't have that conversation privately, either.

Because Westbrook is part of what makes the Thunder great. Great enough to win in Miami, just like they did in San Antonio to earn a trip to these Finals.

Westbrook, imperfections and all, is a phenomenal talent. Just because he's playing out of position doesn't make that any less true.

And he's a large part of what has made these Finals so entertaining already.

So let's not bother clouding that with a blame game routine that should have died the moment this team hoisted that Western Conference championship trophy.

Follow ESPN.com NBA writer Israel Gutierrez on Twitter: @IzzyESPN.

Dimes past: June 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 10 | 12 | 13 | 14

2. Time For Thunder To Change Lineup?

By John Hollinger

Stay the course.

If forced to choose three words to sum up the approach of Scott Brooks as a coach and the Oklahoma City Thunder as an organization, I'm not sure I could do better than those three.

And they're of particular relevance, because Game 2 is causing a lot of people to wonder if a course correction might be preferable. The Thunder fell behind 18-2, the latest episode in a recent epidemic of sluggish first quarters, and the matchup of Kendrick Perkins against Miami's small lineup in particular seems to leave the Thunder at a major disadvantage.

Don't hold your breath on a change, though. The Thunder have used the same starting lineup for all 34 playoff games they've played with this group over the past two seasons, which puts them in marked contrast to Team Center Du Jour from Miami, and early indications make it a safe bet that the streak will hit 35.

"No, not at all" said Scott Brooks about whether he'd considered changing his lineup, although he quickly added, "We just lost 30 minutes ago."

"We just didn't come out with the defensive toughness, the disposition that we need to play with," said Brooks. "We have to do that first, and then if it doesn't work, we'll think about doing other things."

Um, about those other things -- that might be the adjustment the Thunder make to win this series. It may take their being down 2-1 before they'll try it, but the evidence for change is growing.

To play devil's advocate, Oklahoma City is understandably reluctant to mess with something that's working in the big-picture sense, focusing instead on the old standbys of internal improvement, smarter play and improved focus. To their credit, that's carried this team to where it is now.

Alas, all those standbys, not to mention Brooks' go-to mantra of "playing with force," can't hide the awfulness of this particular matchup for Oklahoma City. The Heat are starting the game small and the Thunder are starting the game big, and Miami is just killing them.

Read the full column »


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