Russell Westbrook played the best game of his still young NBA career last night, and it still wasn't enough to lead the Thunder to a Game Four victory against Miami in the NBA Finals
The 43-point performance was among the best individual Finals scoring effort in recent years considering the stakes of the game and quality of competition he was up against.
An issue that has dogged Westbrook all season, though, is that despite his consistent statistics and being a key part of his team's success, he remains a lightning rod for criticism due to his playmaking skills. Whether it's him taking shots away from Kevin Durant or making reckless decisions, he's been on everyone's short list for people taking potshots to take at.
In this season's playoffs, he's taken a step up and has seemingly used the negativity going toward him as fuel to make his play better. Westbrook has done this in a way very similar to how Allen Iverson use to lead the Philadelphia 76ers.
Iverson was excessively chastised for ball hogging and poor shooting throughout his 76er career despite leading a dreadful miserable supporting cast to the playoffs year after year and even to the Finals. In today's instant-reaction media, even in Iverson's MVP year of 2001, he would get consistently beat up for his style of play.
"Sure he scored 30 points, but on 28 shots," is certainly something ESPN's Skip Bayless would have on his tongue on a regular basis. As it goes, Westbrook had more than his fair share of those comments this year.
The obvious difference between Iverson and Westbrook is the great team that Westbrook has and Iverson was never given. Westbrook is doing everything he can to prove himself as a number-one guy when it is obvious his best role on a championship contender is the number two, which is where he is and should be.
Iverson, on the other hand, was forced to be the number one guy for so many years when he was probably better suited to be a wingman. His years playing with Carmelo Anthony in Denver somewhat prove this. Even further, imagine if Iverson was planted as Dirk Nowitzki's wingman in Dallas in the post-Steve Nash years.
Westbrook will never be the blur of reckless abandon that Iverson made himself into. Put him on Iverson's 2001 Sixers and they get knocked out of the first round.
Iverson gave his all every game of his career and would have died to play next to someone the caliber of Durant.
Westbrook has what Iverson never had and is thriving in that role and especially after last night, proved he will have many more in future years. Only to be ridiculed for not deferring when it mattered most.
It's OK, Russ. AI feels your pain.