HOUSTON — When these two young middleweights get old, maybe they will sit down and sip sweet tea and laugh together about their battles.
Tuesday night was such great theater at the Toyota Center, as Westbrook and Beverley fought for 94 feet. Sure, Beverley had some help from his Houston Rockets teammates in guarding the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s star guard. But for the majority of the night, it was Westbrook vs. Beverley.
This series ended with the Rockets knocking off the Thunder in five games and clinching the series with a 105-99 victory.
This game was so contested and emotional that mild-mannered Rockets owner Leslie Alexander rose from his courtside seat to chastise referee Bill Kennedy over a call. Even the Thunder’s majority owner, Clay Bennett, made his way to the arena floor, standing in the back corner to watch his superstar take 34 shots against Beverley and a Rockets team that proved it was better.
In the five games, Westbrook averaged a triple-double: 37.4 points, 10.8 assists and 11.6 rebounds. But against Beverley, Westbrook was a mere mortal. He shot 7-for-27 with five turnovers for 27 points in the series. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Beverley guarded Westbrook for 38 half-court plays and held him to 0.71 points per play.
On Tuesday, Westbrook wore down yet again, due in large part to the number of bodies, led by Beverley, that the Rockets ran at him. Westbrook was pitiful in the fourth quarter, when he shot 2-for-11 for nine points. He didn’t score his first bucket until 2:14 remained.
You could say Beverley had something — or everything — to do with it.
The two men fought so hard that they reached their breaking point with 7:23 remaining in the fourth quarter, when they started jawing at each other. The referees had to do something, so double technicals were given.
Here’s Beverley’s take: “It’s actually the first time we exchanged words this postseason. He’s a really good player. He applies a lot of pressure due to his athleticism, his creating ability. He shocked me because he said, ‘Look up’ and said, ‘Nobody can guard me. I got 40 points.’ I said, ‘That’s nice. You took 34 shots to get it.’ I’m not trying to bash anybody. Men lie, women lie, and the numbers don’t. Collectively, as a unit, we did a great job on him, tried to make him take a lot of tough shots, and the numbers show.”
Here are Westbrook’s thoughts on the exchange: “He was talking first-team all-defense. I didn’t know what he was talking about ’cause I had 42 at the time. I have no idea what he was talking about. Maybe he was dreaming or some s—. I don’t know what he was talking about. I guess he wanted to be first-team all-defense. Maybe he was dreaming about it. I don’t know.”
There’s truth in what each is saying.
Beverley says he believes he should be named to the first-team All-NBA defensive team. He has had a wonderful season on the defensive end, and he raised his offensive game, too.
Of course, Westbrook is correct in saying that he was fantastic in this series. You can’t dismiss a triple-double average over five games, including a 51-point night, and say it was nothing. There’s a reason Westbrook is an MVP candidate. He presented all sorts of fits for the Rockets’ defense. The game plan was for Westbrook to do his thing, to make it hard on him and to allow the other Thunder players to have an impact if they could.
The Rockets had little respect for Andre Roberson‘s game, and though he performed well in the series, he missed six of seven shots in the elimination game. Victor Oladipo was another player the Rockets allowed to shoot, as he went 5-for-26 in the first two games. He settled down some but then reverted to form. In the game to save OKC’s season, Oladipo missed 13 of 17 shots.
By sending different defenders at Westbrook after Beverley handled him, the goal was to wear him down, and that’s what happened in the fourth quarter.
Beverley was doing just fine on offense in the clincher, going 6-of-10 from the field, and his floater to start the fourth quarter ignited a 14-4 run that pushed the Rockets to an 86-81 lead before Billy Donovan called timeout with 9:15 to play.
When the night was over, Westbrook left the court, and Beverley hugged it out with whomever was left on the floor.
Although this series was in part about the MVP candidates Harden and Westbrook, it also created another great rivalry between Westbrook and Beverley. Personality-wise, Westbrook and Beverley are the same. Each plays with an angry fury and has Harden as one of his closest friends.
Westbrook and Beverley. Beverley and Westbrook. It doesn’t matter whose side you’re one. These two men are what the NBA needs.
As the Rockets move along to the next round and the Thunder head home thinking about what might have been, one thing is certain: We’ll see Beverley and Westbrook again.