Russell Westbrook, the point guard of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is widely regarded as one of today’s most dynamic players. When the man is on, there’s no stopping him. The young sensation from Long Beach can maneuver through defenders and finger roll the ball into the basket with the kind of grace and athleticism that Allen Iverson used to possess. Unfortunately, the 23 year old guard can have his bad days too.
Many basketball journalists criticize him for taking too many shots, especially given the fact that he’s on a team with Kevin Durant, the league’s reigning three time scoring champion. Magic Johnson, a man who knows a thing or two about playing the point guard position, recently called out Westbrook’s performances in games one and two of this year’s NBA finals.
Magic even went as far to call Westbrook “The worst point guard in NBA finals history.” Indeed, there’s no denying that even though he put up big numbers, Westbrook’s play in the opening games of this year’s finals could be kindly labeled as erratic. In game four, he silenced his critics, with a stunning 43 points on 20-32 shooting. For now, Westbrook can escape the shadows of some of the other worst performers in NBA finals history, like the following ones.
Henry Bibby, 1977-
The Philadephia 76ers were the heavy favorites to beat the Portland Trailblazers in the ’77 finals. The Blazers were still a relatively new franchise, and just making it to the finals was something of a surprise already. One thing was for certain though: Despite Dr. J’s presence on the 76ers’ roster, they were going to need big time play from point guard Henry Bibby. It turns out that his 4.2 assists per game and 31.3% shooting didn’t cut it. Thanks to his poor play, Philadelphia was not able to move the ball efficiently against Portland’s stellar defense, anchored by hall of famer Bill Walton.
Larry Johnson, 1999-
It was unlikely that the New York Knicks would beat the San Antonio Spurs for the championship in 1999. Despite the appeal of the Knicks’ “Cinderella story” (They made the finals despite being only a number eight seed), the twin towers of Tim Duncan and David Robinson would likely be too much for the them. Forward Larry Johnson’s horrific shooting certainly didn’t help matters. Johnson was an above average shooter his entire career (16.2 points per game), but he didn’t show up for this five game series. He was 2-18 beyond the arc, and a pathetic 14-49 overall. The clock hit midnight during this series, and the sound of the chimes sounded a lot like spurs.
Kobe Bryant, 2004-
Yes, it is odd to see the name of a guy who has five championship rings on a list like this, but Kobe couldn’t get it together when his Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games back in 2004. He shot a ghastly 38.1 percent from the field, and had almost as many turnovers as assists. You could blame the scrutiny he was facing from his trial that had been dropped only months before, or you could blame his unprecedented media war with teammate Shaquille O’Neal. Wherever you want to attribute the blame, this is far and away Kobe’s poorest performance, possibly of his entire illustrious NBA career.
Lebron James, 2007-
We’ve heard all the jokes about King James in the clutch. They came back in full force after his Miami Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in six games last year. As of only a few days ago, James finally attained his ultimate validation: A championship ring. His recent victory with the Miami Heat was his third attempt; his first came with the Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2007.
He was clearly the best player on the team, and if they were going to beat the San Antonio Spurs, they were going to need his leadership. Unfortunately for Cleveland, James shot an atypical 35.6 percent from the field and was unusually clumsy with the ball, averaging a cringe-inducing 5.8 turnovers per game. Due to James’ substandard play, the Cavs found themselves easily swept.
James Harden, 2012-
Like I just said in the previous paragraph, Lebron James finally got his ring, and he did it by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. As I mentioned in the intro, many have put blame on Westbrook’s dicey play for the Thunder’s misfortunes. But in the opinion of this writer, the reason the Oklahoma City team lost so handily is more appropriately attributable to the surprisingly misguided play from the NBA’s sixth man of the year:
James Harden. The bearded wonder was a shooting sensation all year, but despite the open looks he had all series long, he shot a measly 37.5 percent from the floor. He has also made several questionable passing decisions. Many commentators were wondering if the finals would prove to be stressful for this incredibly young Thunder roster. In the case of the 22 year old Harden, that might just have been the case.
In 1997, Michael Jordan heroically carried his Chicago Bulls to a victory in game five of the NBA finals, despite being hobbled by a devastating case of the flu. His performance exemplified the kind of play that champions need to exhibit in order to win the NBA finals, the league’s biggest stage. That’s what sets him apart from these aforementioned five.
Contributor- Jerome Manson