Updated: Jun 16, 2012, 1:03 AM

1. Why The Blame Game Errs On Westbrook

By Israel Gutierrez
ESPN.com

We're two games into a wildly intriguing NBA Finals, featuring probably the two best teams in the league and almost definitively the two best players in the league.

Add to that the style being played -- both teams preferring the up-tempo style with the threat of a breathtaking play every possession -- and what we want is perfection.

We want every player playing at his absolute best to decide it all. And when we don't get exactly that -- the absolute best, particularly from the six biggest names in this series -- we want to assign fault.

Russell Westbrook
Mark D. Smith/US Presswire

Game 1, because the Heat lost, was Dwyane Wade's fault. This is a relatively new conversation, the one about Wade's game regressing, his athleticism leaving him and his knees betraying him. At least it's new because no one wanted to acknowledge until now that one of the game's best might -- and this is still just "might" -- be firmly on the downside of his career in only the second year of the Super Friends.

Game 2, because the Thunder failed to complete a tremendous comeback, was Russell Westbrook's fault. This is an old conversation. Old and tired. Old and wrong, frankly, because it always comes back to one place -- that Westbrook should play more like a point guard and less like, well, himself.

Just the idea of this argument should carry little to no weight given that the Thunder are in the NBA Finals, three wins from a championship, with a core so young it almost defies the natural laws of the NBA.

And the argument, whether it's narrowed down to Game 2 of the Finals or distributed throughout the length of his brief career, is unfair to a player who, as is, remains just as important to his team as Wade is to his.

Before we get to the specifics of Game 2, let's compare the two blame game discussions so far in the Finals.

When Wade went 7-of-19 from the floor for 19 points, eight assists and four rebounds in Game 1, the prevailing thought was that Wade needs to be more efficient. That he needs to provide relief for LeBron James, and, given that his explosiveness is lacking at the moment, he simply needs to find more makeable shots and do away with the high-degree-of-difficulty attempts.

Sounds reasonable enough.

Now compare that to the conversation driven by Westbrook's performance.

When he finishes 10-of-26 from the field for 27 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, it's not just that he needs to find a way to make, say, four more of those shots to turn an OK performance, by his standards, into a phenomenal performance.

No, for Westbrook, it means he has to change his entire approach to the game. That he has to play like a traditional point guard, even though he didn't enter the league as a traditional point guard and has succeeded at that position nonetheless.

Never mind that Westbrook had better overall numbers in Game 2 than Wade did in Game 1. Never mind that his shots, primarily pull-up jumpers on which he gets high enough to take any defender out of the equation, aren't as difficult as some of the attempts Wade tries on a nightly basis.

No, Westbrook still is being asked by outsiders to change his game because of the tiny box he's shoved into by playing the point guard position.

Yes, Westbrook has a teammate who might end up being the best scorer his position has ever seen. But Westbrook is just as important to the Thunder's success because of his explosiveness, his energy on both ends of the floor and, yes, even his shot-making.

So let's look back to Game 2 and see whether there's any compelling evidence to support this notion about Westbrook.

He started the game 2-of-10. Fine, but Kevin Durant was just 3-of-9 in the first half, and it wasn't as if Westbrook continually missed his open teammate.

For those who preferred Westbrook defer to a red-hot James Harden at the start, it would appear to make sense.

But if you haven't noticed, a lot of Harden's scoring comes from plays on which he's handling the ball. He creates most of his opportunities off the dribble in the pick-and-roll game.

So if the Thunder were to continue feeding Harden's hot hand, it was the coach's responsibility to call the proper plays, not for Westbrook to force the ball in Harden's direction.

Now check that second half, the one in which the Thunder made a furious rally.

Westbrook was doing something right, because he was 8-of-16 for 18 points in the second half.

Those are strong numbers no matter whose name they're next to.

It just so happens Durant one-upped his teammate by going old-school "NBA Jam" "He's on fire!" hot. Durant scored 26 of his 32 points in the second half on 9-of-13 shooting.

But five of those nine field goals were assisted by, guess who, Westbrook.

That's not a bad half when you can manage to put up 18 points while helping keep your team's hot hand scorching.

And yet, somehow, Westbrook remains the biggest culprit in what was a classic battle between two loaded basketball teams. Is there nowhere else to look?

Should we just ignore that a front line of Durant, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka was matched in the rebounding department by Chris Bosh alone (15 to 15), despite the Heat's other two frontcourt players being 6-foot-8?

Should we just assume the Thunder's slow starts are Westbrook's fault, too?

Fact is, the Thunder's big three played better collectively in Game 2 than they did in Game 1. The difference was the Heat's main characters simply did more.

This isn't dismissing Westbrook's performance the rest of the Finals, either.

The numbers gathered by ESPN...

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