- Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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Russell Westbrook is fully aware that his teammates feed off both his good and negative energy.
“To me that is part of leadership, on both sides,” Westbrook said. “When I am in a s—ty mood, my teammates feed off that too.”
On Sunday night, Westbrook was the aggressive and attacking point guard the Washington Wizards envisioned when they traded John Wall for him. And they fed off of Westbrook’s brilliance in his signature game with the team to date. Westbrook had 41 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals to go with the go-ahead 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left to stun the Brooklyn Nets 149-146 at Capital One Arena.
The Wizards (4-12) snapped a four-game losing streak in exhilarating fashion. They trailed by five with 12.3 seconds left, but then Bradley Beal buried a pull-up 3 with 8.1 seconds remaining. Garrison Mathews stole the ensuing inbounds pass near the left baseline and quickly found Westbrook open for his 3 and a 147-146 lead.
This furious sequence of back-to-back 3s from Westbrook and Beal is what the Wizards daydreamed of when they made the blockbuster trade with Houston. It was a moment to savor for Washington’s star backcourt, a glimpse of what the duo can do when healthy.
In the second half alone, Westbrook delivered what for many players would have been a full game against his former Thunder teammate Kevin Durant and with his former Rockets teammate James Harden watching from the sideline. Westbrook had 22 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds after halftime. For the game, he not only made 16 of 28 shots but drilled 4 of 7 from behind the arc.
Beal was sensational in the fourth, continuing his season-long scoring assault by burying 8 of 9 shots and scoring 22 of his 37 points in the final 10 minutes.
But instead of scoring big in yet another frustrating loss, Beal got to see his backcourt mate dominate alongside him as the Wizards earned their most important win of the season.
“Russ was unbelievable tonight,” Beal said. “On all levels. Had his jumper going, getting in the post, knocking down free throws. He was everywhere tonight. We needed that. And that was beautiful to see.”
Westbrook hasn’t been himself since injuring his quad in training camp. Westbrook, though, kept playing and reinjured it twice during the season before the Wizards finally shut him down for a couple of weeks. Head coach Scott Brooks said his point guard was practically “dragging” his leg trying to play on it.
“The old me, I probably would have kept playing and kept playing,” Westbrook said of not resting his injured leg. “And it would have never got to where I needed it to be.”
“When I took my time off, I was able to take my two weeks off,” Westbrook added. “Obviously our team wasn’t back yet either and that definitely allowed me a little more time to be able to get healthy and move, attack and have my legs underneath me and be in a place I am happy and blessed to be able to go out and compete.”
While Westbrook was out resting his quad and a dislocated finger, the Wizards had a COVID outbreak on the team that saw seven players enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols. It wasn’t until Sunday against Brooklyn that they had six of the players who were in the protocols and remain on the roster back and available.
The Wizards still occupy the bottom of the NBA standings after as rough a start as any team has had to endure. But they’re getting healthier and Westbrook is beginning to look and feel more like himself.
“Big plays after big plays,” Brooks said. “Russell willed this game.”
“He’s the best rebounding guard in the history of the game,” Brooks later added. “And that’s hard to say you’re the best at something in the history of the game, but he’s the best rebounding guard. … He does it every night. He gives it his all. He’s not a great shooter, but he’s a great player — that can make shots.”
Westbrook has hit more important shots, won bigger games. But this was his best moment yet as a member of the Wizards, something that will only enhance his ability to lead his new team and give Beal much-needed help.
“It’s big for me because I believe leadership shows out when you win and guys do well,” Westbrook said. “Guys are happy, feel better about themselves, confident about their game and what they are doing. That is what I look for, seeing teammates, seeing how happy they are, play for the next person. … To be able to show that you are able to be a leader, you’ve got to look at yourself first, look at yourself in the mirror and make sure I am coming and bringing my game before I point and talk to anybody else.”
“I feel like I have been put in this position for a reason,” he later added. “I feel like I am able to take the heat, take the pressure because that is just who I am and I don’t mind doing that, good or bad. As long as my teammates, the organization and people around here feel good about themselves, I am OK with that.”
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