NBA analysts Tony Kornheiser and Caron Butler explained how a healthy Russell Westbrook makes a significant difference for the Houston Rockets.
Former MVP point guard Russell Westbrook has been unable to make his postseason debut with the Houston Rockets, as he suffered a strained quadriceps injury near the conclusion of the 2019-20 regular season, which was perceived as a gut punch for the Rockets’ chances against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Rockets were the popular pick prior to the news of Westbrook’s injury, and became the underdog after it was determined that Westbrook would be sidelined.
The Rockets won the first two games of the series, due in large part to their stifling defense, which kept OKC’s stellar guard trio of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroeder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in check. The Rockets appeared capable of eliminating the Thunder without Westbrook, based on their initial 2-0 lead.
But Oklahoma City came storming back, as they tied the series 2-2, leaving many to wonder when Westbrook would be able to suit up, if at all. Westbrook was surely dealing with an onslaught of emotions, as he surely wanted to play against his former team of 11 years.
The Houston Rockets guard was listed as questionable heading into Game 5, which was set to take place on Wednesday. The game was never played, as players boycotted the games, taking a unified stance to voice their displeasure with the shooting of Jacob Blake by the Kenosha Police Department.
The NBA sought to find a resolution of how to proceed with the postseason, leading to three days of inactivity. This benefited Westbrook, who was recovering from an injury, and was able to get back to full strength, which was exhibited during the Rockets’ full scrimmage on Thursday.
How Westbrook gives edge to Houston Rockets
During Friday’s episode of Pardon the Interruption, ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser discussed how a healthy Westbrook would have altered the Rockets’ series against the Thunder.
“This guy is an MVP. He’s not just some guy named Jack. He’s Russell Westbrook. If he played in all four games it would be 3-1 or 4-0.”
Kornheiser stated that the series could have possibly already been over, as the Rockets could very well have swept the Thunder with Westbrook, which isn’t far off. The Rockets nearly won the last two games of the series, were it not for late-game collapses.
Westbrook’s former teammate Caron Butler, who now works as an analyst for NBA TV, explained how Westbrook’s presence will force Thunder coach Billy Donovan to alter his gameplan.
“Alot changes because you now have that dynamic scorer, particularly offensively because OKC will have to guard Westbrook and the gameplan for James Harden will have to be drastically different. Because you have another guy on the opposing wing that’s more than capable with his decision making and going downhill, and imposing his will on the defense, which can make it extremely scary.”
Westbrook will play in Saturday’s Game 5, so we’ll get a chance to see just how accurate Kornheiser and Butler were in their assessment of how Westbrook’s presence will spell problems for the Thunder.