Russell Westbrook’s Best Game as a Laker Was Spoiled by His Stubborn Pride: ‘I Will Live and Die With That 1’

Russell Westbrook came dangerously close to proving his worth to the Los Angeles Lakers. The nine-time All-Star helped lead the Lakers to a furious comeback against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night. However, LA fell short 117-114 to fall to 24-26 on the season.

On the bright side, Westbrook arguably played his best game as a Laker. However, the end of the night served as a stark reminder that no matter how promising it might look at times, LA will always be stuck with the same old Russ.

Russell Westbrook bounced back from a miserable half and had his best Lakers performance

It’s been well-documented that Westbrook’s first season with the Purple and Gold has been below expectations. So with LeBron James and Anthony Davis out, few expected Brodie and the Lakers to put up much of a fight against the upstart Hornets.

By halftime, the doubters looked rather wise. Charlotte went into halftime up 65-49 and in complete control. Westbrook, who played a team-high 16:32 in the first half, scored just five points and registered a -27 plus-minus. A few minutes into the third quarter, the two-time scoring champ was a -31 as LA trailed by 20.

However, something started to click for LA’s erratic point guard. Westbrook would go on to score 14 points in the third alone, bringing the deficit to just two points. He then dropped another 16 points in the fourth despite sitting for over three minutes. In total, Westbrook ended his night with a season-high 35 points on 12-of-23 shooting to go with five assists, four rebounds, and a single turnover. Additionally, his 30 second-half points were the most in a half by any Laker since Kobe Bryant’s final game in 2016.

Westbrook reached the 30-point benchmark for just the fourth time since joining the Lakers. The last time he did so was on Dec. 23, scoring 30 points in an embarrassing 28-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs.

The end of the game was a reminder that Westbrook won’t change

Considering the Lakers were down by as many as 20 points, Westbrook deserves some credit for nearly pulling off the incredible comeback. But he didn’t do himself any favors during LA’s final possession.

Down by two with 9.3 seconds left, Westbrook inbounded the ball to Carmelo Anthony, who flipped it right back to Westbrook. With time winding down, Russ was guarded by Miles Bridges around the 3-point line. After a quick fake, Russ fired up a three-ball for the win with about three seconds left but missed. Charlotte would secure the rebound and tack on a final free-throw before the final buzzer sounded.

Westbrook was 3-of-6 from three before that shot, giving him some reason for confidence. However, the guard has hit four triples only once all season and is a dismal 30.5% from beyond the arc. Down two with a bigger defender guarding him, Russ could have attempted to drive to the paint and either attempt a lay-up or draw contact. Out of his 12 field goals, eight came within five feet of the basket.

“I had just made two (3-pointers) just before that, so I will live and die with that one,” Westbrook told ESPN.

Russ’ comment is a perfect summary of his career. The 2016-17 MVP has never shown an ability to change his playing style. Eventually, he ran out of goodwill with the Oklahoma City Thunder before wearing out his welcome with the Houston Rockets and Washington Wizards. Even now with the Lakers, Westbrook will live and die by taking inefficient shots in a desperate attempt to be the hero.

Westbrook was supposed to help the Lakers overcome LeBron and AD being absent

The main reason the 2020-21 Lakers were unable to repeat as champs is because of injuries to James and Davis. The two superstars missed 27 and 36 games respectively, forcing LA to fight for a playoff spot in the play-in round.

In order to prevent a downward spiral like last season. the Lakers acquired Westbrook as a contingency plan for if (or when) LeBron and AD missed time. However, the 33-year-old has not been up to the task.

Westbrook, who has suited up for all 50 games, has taken the court without James, Davis, or both 34 times. So far, LA is just 15-19 in those games. Basically, unless both LeBron James and Anthony Davis are out on the court with Russ, the Lakers are barely better than a 10-seed in the West.

Friday’s loss against the Hornets could have been Westbrook’s opportunity to validate his controversial trade. But in what’s become common practice, his pride got in the way.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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