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Thursday, May 20, 2021

Wizards Make Pacers Disappear, Clinch Playoff Berth Despite Starting the Season With a 7-17 Record

The Washington Wizards blew out the Indiana Pacers 142-115 in the Play-In Tournament to clinch the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Three of the five Play-In Tournament games have been decided by at least 18 points, so the overall competition level has been less than fantastic. Bradley Beal scored a game-high 25 points in just 28 minutes, but Russell Westbrook set the tone with his all-around play, amassing a game-high +30 plus/minus number as he scored 18 points, dished a game-high 15 assists, and grabbed eight rebounds. He nearly had a triple double in the first half alone, and if the game had been close enough to require him to play more than 33 minutes he likely would have posted a triple double. Malcolm Brogdon led the Pacers with 24 points, and Domantas Sabonis notched a triple double (19 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) before fouling out after playing 32 minutes. 

The last time the Wizards/Bullets franchise won a winner take all game was 1979, and the last time that they qualified for the playoffs was 2018. To say that this franchise does not have a modern winning tradition is an understatement. A lot of well-known names have played for the Wizards in the past four decades--including Michael Jordan at the end of his career--without producing much postseason success, but Westbrook has played a major role in turning this team around after injuries and COVID-19 left the Wizards languishing with a 7-17 record.

Westbrook led the league in assists for the third time in the past four seasons with a career-high 11.7 rpg average, and he ranked a career-high sixth in the league in rebounding with a career-high 11.5 rpg average. The last guard to rank in the top 10 in rebounding (other than Westbrook himself, who has now accomplished the feat four times) is Oscar Robertson in 1961-62, when he ranked ninth as a second year player. Westbrook also averaged 22.2 ppg (24th in the league). The only other players who ranked in the top 25 in scoring, rebounding, and assists this season are Nikola Jokic (the presumptive MVP), Giannis Antetokounmpo (the two-time reigning MVP), Julius Randle, and Luka Doncic. Four of those five players have been mentioned as MVP candidates. Westbrook is the odd man out, treated with a puzzling amount of disrespect for a player who consistently plays hard while filling up the boxscore in multiple categories.

As great as Westbrook was during the 2020-21 season, he took his game to another level every time he played against the Pacers. Westbrook averaged a triple double versus the Pacers during the regular season as the Wizards swept the season series 3-0--and not a normal triple double, but what can only be called a "Westbrook triple double": 27.3 ppg, 20.0 apg, 18.0 rpg. Only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain ever repeatedly posted outsize triple doubles like that, but Westbrook is the all-time triple double champion and he does not have many "small" triple doubles. 

Westbrook offered a harsh assessment of his performance in the Wizards first Play-In Tournament game (a 118-100 loss to the Boston Celtics), but if redemption is necessary for producing 20 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocked shots--which is actually a below average game by the ridiculously high standards that Westbrook has set for himself--then he more than achieved it versus the Pacers.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:16 PM



At Thursday, May 20, 2021 11:54:00 PM, Blogger RFU said...

Happy for Westbrook. He shouldn't need this game to validate his status but I am glad there are fewer stupid takes that I would need to hear about Westbrook now that Wizards are at least in the playoffs.

At Friday, May 21, 2021 12:46:00 AM, Anonymous Michael said...

Throughout the entire history of basketball the player who averaged the most apg in a season was considered a selfless, exemplary teammate with a high basketball IQ. This narrative conveniently disappeared the second that Westbrook started leading the league in assists and many people developed a tragic need to minimize his historically great playmaking. He probably won't ever get his rightful due but I hope that history is kinder to him.

At Friday, May 21, 2021 1:06:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There will probably always be stupid takes about Westbrook but at least for one night he gets a bit of a respite.

It is fascinating to me that 20 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocked shots (his numbers versus Boston in the first Play-In Tournament game) are considered to be bad. How many other NBA players could post those numbers and honestly say that they had a "terrible" game?

At Friday, May 21, 2021 1:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


What Westbrook has accomplished is even more noteworthy when one recalls that many critics questioned if he could even function as an NBA point guard because he supposedly was a shoot first player who lacked playmaking skills.


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