How the Houston Rockets defended Russell Westbrook to close Game 4

I went back and watched all eleven of Russell Westbrook’s fourth quarter shot attempts from Sunday afternoon. Overall, he went 5/11 in that deciding quarter. He took a pair of atrocious leaning three-pointers in hopes of getting fouled, late in the quarter, but the game was already out of hand at that point, so I won’t hold those shots against him.

Here, he walks into a long ‘3’, tying the game. You live with that. Westbrook isn’t a particularly great three-point shooter, and after he gets Anderson to switch onto him, that’s your best bet.

Down just one, he looks to post up Beverley, missing the turnaround.

He comes right back down, with the score tied, and tries to post up Beverley yet again, missing yet again. While he’s hit a few of these over Pat, I think this is Houston’s best hope against Westbrook. He can’t see the floor as well, and of course, isn’t able to explode to the rim.

Another long ‘3’, which Houston can live with.  Ariza trips, and at least Harden is able to get a hand up.

He’s feeling it now, so, down two, with Nene on him and no rim protection inside, Westbrook does the complete opposite of what you’d expect any smart superstar to do – he settles for the long ‘3’, letting Houston off the hook.  He’s got Roberson wide open under the rim if he drives, a play that had been killing Houston all series early in games.

Now down four, Westbrook drives right into the teeth of the defense, bringing the Thunder back into striking distance.  For some reason, neither Nene nor Harden even attempt to contest the shot.

After this point, the Rockets put the game out of reach, before the wild closing minute. Despite their reputation, Houston played pretty good defense on the likely MVP. He only got two layups during that critical stretch, and settled for turnarounds and long 3’s. The Rockets also kept him out of his mid-range spots. All of this without really any rim protection.

During that entire span, starting from the pull-up ‘3’ at 8:57, Grant makes a dunk off of a Westbrook pass, McDermott missed a pull-up jumper, and Oladipo hit a ‘3’ at 1:53 to bring it to 105-103. No other Thunder player took a shot, aside from Roberson’s free throws. Inevitably, in the fourth, Westbrook is going to try to take the game over with his shooting. We don’t have just this series as evidence – we have the past five years.

The Rockets are better off with Westbrook taking every shot. For all the hand-wringing by the national media regarding the Thunder’s ineptitude with Westbrook off the court, the supporting cast has proven more than capable of punishing the Rockets when he’s on the floor and actually passing the ball. Westbrook has killed the Rockets all series when he’s been a willing passer. They hope again, as they look to close out the series in Game 5, that the trends continue.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of

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