Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams shared a postgame podium after yesterday’s loss to the Rockets. The first question came from Westbrook’s old rival, Berry Tramel, and even though it was addressed to Adams, it was Westbrook’s time to shine.
The question, which was essentially, “Why are you guys so bad when Westbrook goes to the bench?” was fair if not particularly interesting. (The Thunder are bad when Westbrook goes to the bench because Westbrook is very good and the rest of the team is not very good.) And Westbrook’s response, a rant in which he chided Tramel for trying to divide him from his teammates, didn’t actually have much to do with the question at all.
During the playoffs in particular, the postgame press conference is more performance space than information conduit. It’s where David Fizdale can go to show his team that he won’t let them go quietly, where Paul George can let his teammates how tired of their shit he is, and where LeBron James can let his opponents know that questioning his toughness is a bad idea.
Westbrook isn’t stupid. He knows that his team is short on talent and doesn’t stand a chance against the Rockets when he’s on the bench, and he’s not being obtuse or disingenuous when he makes this demand of Tramel, “Say, ‘Russell you ain’t play well at all,’ or say, ‘Russell and the team haven’t played well.’” Those words weren’t meant for the media or the fans, but for his teammates. All Westbrook did was give them a public and forceful pep talk.
And that’s fine. It was undoubtedly annoying for Tramel to have his question stepped all over, and perhaps we missed out on a good Adams quote, but Westbrook’s hijacking was just as revealing as any standard answer could have been. Now we know just how aware Westbrook is of the fact that his team is -40 when he’s been on the bench during this series, and just how hard he’s trying not to let that fact get to his team.