NEW YORK – Russell Westbrook is an All-Star Game conundrum. His breakneck speed and otherworldly explosiveness are perfectly suited for the free-flowing style of the midseason classic, but his ever-burning motor flies in the face of the contest’s casual competitive nature.
Given that reality, it’s something close to shocking that Westbrook was awarded just his first All-Star MVP award on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Oklahoma City Thunder superstar nearly set an all-time record by scoring 41 awe-inspiring points on 16-of-28 shooting in the Western Conference’s 163-158 win over their Eastern Conference counterparts.
A certain fellow All-Star used Westbrook’s incendiary performance to speak superlatives of his overall game. Obviously, it’s safe to say that LeBron James wouldn’t change a thing about the 25 year-old’s divisive playing style.
“Westbrook came for [the MVP] from the start,” the two-time champion said. “His motor, his athleticism, his demeanor about how he approaches the game is all great.”
Asked what Westbrook could do to get better, LeBron came up with a novel idea.
“Be Russell Westbrook. Stop caring about what everyone else thinks. He don’t have to change… Just be yourself – that’s all that matters. Russell Westbrook is one of the best talents this game has ever seen.”
Sunday night made it difficult to believe otherwise.
Westbrook showed off his shooting stroke by draining three consecutive treys in a 27-point first half. His nearly unparalleled hops were on display from the time he entered the game several minutes after tip-off, but especially on a seemingly impossible third quarter alley-oop slam during which his head scraped the backboard. And he made the night’s biggest shot by hitting a three-pointer that stretched the West’s lead to nine with just over two minutes remaining as their opponents made a final comeback push.
But Russ came just shy of breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s 55 year-old record of 42 points in the All-Star Game. Not that he was concerned, of course, by that relative loss with the game in the balance late.
“Somebody told me about the record,” he said, “but at the time we were just trying to find a way to win the game.”
Overarching of the many aspects that make Westbrook such a polarizing player is his maniacal intensity. He never stops pushing and gives absolutely all he can, attributes that sometimes lead to questionable decision-making on both ends of the floor.
But the All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden was just the latest and greatest stage on which he confirmed that approach would never waver. The West was better off for it despite presence of the usual and inevitable gaffes, and the Thunder always are, too.
“I definitely did,” he said of finding time to rest during the All-Star Game. “I found a way to get some rest during time-outs, halftime, and when I was on the bench.”
After the game, James warned against the newly crowned All-Star MVP ever changing. And on Sunday night, Westbrook proved – just like he always does – that such a possibility won’t ever, ever come to fruition.