April 17, 2019
After Tuesday's deflating 114-94 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 2, the Oklahoma City Thunder are heading back home in an 0-2 series hole with Russell Westbrook taking responsibility for the team's poor performance and vowing to play better in Game 3.
"Starting with myself, I've got to play better," Westbrook said. "And tonight, the loss, I'm going to take full responsibility for tonight. Because the way I played was unacceptable. I'm going to be better, so I'm not worried one bit. My job is to make sure I continue to come out and will and lead our guys and make sure we have a chance to win the game."
Game 2 contained standard elements for the Blazers playing great: Damian Lillard was electric with 29 points; CJ McCollum poured in a game-high 33; and, like Game 1, the Thunder shot the ball miserably from 3-point range (5-of-28).
The storyline of Game 1 largely centered around Paul George's shoulder and his struggles shooting the ball, but he bounced back with 27 points on 11-of-20 shooting in Game 2, looking far more comfortable with his jumper.
It was Westbrook, though, who didn't do the complementing this time around. He finished a rebound away from a triple-double, but with six turnovers and some sloppy moments -- including a sequence where he shot an air ball in the second quarter, then didn't hustle back on defense, which led to Jerami Grant fouling Lillard on a made 3 -- Westbrook didn't make his typical impact in Game 2.
There's a history between Lillard and Westbrook, with the two sharing some trash-talking moments as longtime division rivals, and they scuffled slightly again on Tuesday. Late in the second quarter, Westbrook was corralling a loose ball as Lillard tried to tie him up. Westbrook called timeout, there was some contact and Westbrook fell back. After a review, there were no personal or technical fouls assessed.
"They're both pit bulls," McCollum said. "You've got competitive guys who play hard. Well-known All-Stars, faces of their franchises and the stakes are high, so if you're a competitor, you look forward to these moments and these opportunities to not only put yourself on the map, but you're team on the map, as well."
Westbrook vows to play better after loss
Lillard went on to outplay Westbrook in Game 2, leading the Blazers on a series of runs that culminated in a 60-40 second half. Lillard played a stellar defensive game, locking in on Westbrook with physical, hounding defense, knocking the ball away in post-ups and challenging Westbrook into questionable shots.
"I don't really have a choice but to embrace it," Lillard said. "That team is going to go as far as him and Paul George."
Lillard, who has hit one fewer three in this series (nine) than the entire Thunder team (10), was a plus-27 to Westbrook's minus-27. In Game 1, Westbrook was able to charge downhill at the Blazers, especially in transition, but he wasn't able to find the same kind of space in Game 2.
It's a bit of standard fare for Westbrook to sit at the podium and take responsibility or make a proclamation after a disappointing playoff performance.
For example, after Game 3 against the Utah Jazz last postseason, a contest in which Ricky Rubio had 26 points, Westbrook said, "I'm gonna shut that s--- off next game though, guarantee that." In that following tilt, Westbrook came out overaggressive and picked up four fouls in the first half.
This series turns to Oklahoma City for Game 3 on Friday, a virtual must-win for the Thunder.
"They won their first two home games, obviously wanted to try to steal one when we can, but let's just stay with it," Westbrook said. "We're a great basketball team, a lot of great guys on this team that I trust in to make shots and make plays on both sides of the basketball. And we'll be all right."
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