1. Anger Management: Westbrook Loses Cool

By Royce Young
ESPN.com/TrueHoop Network

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Russell Westbrook being angry is nothing new.

Russell Westbrook being angry at his teammates is nothing new.

But it's always news, especially when he gets so angry that he loses it and storms off the bench into the tunnel.

What would've been an otherwise nondescript 106-89 win for the Oklahoma City Thunder over the Memphis Grizzlies -- centered around how inept the Grizzlies looked offensively after the Rudy Gay trade -- was spiced up by Westbrook blowing a gasket in the third quarter.

With 8:53 left in the period and the Thunder up by 25, Westbrook isolated on Jerryd Bayless, backing him down in the post. Thabo Sefolosha cut from the right wing into the paint as Westbrook started to make a move. The cut brought over an extra defender, confusing Westbrook for a second. The hesitation caused Westbrook to draw a five-second backdown call, to which he responded by spiking the ball hard into the floor twice, and then barking at Sefolosha.

Sefolosha barked back. Westbrook barked some more.

Russell Westbrook
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiA driving Russell is a happy Russell.

For a player as emotional and hot-headed as Westbrook, the eruption wasn't really all that surprising. What happened next, actually was.

Westbrook went to the bench earlier than usual in the third and, as assistant Mo Cheeks tried to calm him down, Westbrook pulled away, flipped over some equipment and took off for the locker room. It was a pretty stunning move. An uninjured player leaving the floor just to cool off.

"Russell's an emotional guy. He plays hard. He plays every night. He plays for his team every night," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "There's no question he was frustrated. I'm not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustrations, but that's part of it. It's nothing that's going to carry over until tomorrow, it's over with, we've moved on."

Westbrook's outburst can be looked at two ways: (1) It's another example of how his emotions get the best of him and he needs to grow up, or (2) it shows development in that area and that he's controlling himself better.

What's interesting about it is that Westbrook actually requested to come out of the game. After his dust-up with Sefolosha, he looked at the bench, tugged on his jersey and said "get me." He wanted out to clear his head and cool off.

But what was happening off the court evidently became a big distraction for everyone, including the Thunder. As Westbrook boiled over on the bench, Memphis quietly cut a 25-point deficit to 10 late in the third. With the game suddenly and surprisingly in doubt, Westbrook returned to court to begin the fourth quarter and actually was the steadying force the Thunder needed to regain control. He knocked down a jumper, picked up a couple assists and helped slam the door on Memphis.

"I knew he was coming back, I knew he was coming back and was going to play in the fourth quarter," Brooks said. "But I know we needed to take him out at that moment, and you can make whatever you want to make out of it, but we knew he was coming back."

Said Westbrook of how he controlled his temper: "I control it like a man, like I did tonight."

Whatever that means. But the Westbrook from two years ago probably would've totally lost it both off and on the court. When he re-entered, he wouldn't have been able to shake it off and his engine would've continued to run hot. He has grown up some and while he didn't necessarily control it, he clearly tried to take measures to calm himself down.

"We lost a lot of veteran guys here," Nick Collison said. "And the reason we've been able to keep up and go is because what Russell, what Kevin, have done as leaders. And they've been great this year. They've grown up a lot. Their voice with the team and they've done it with their play too. I didn't see what happened tonight, but I know those guys deserve a lot of credit. Russ in particular has grown up a lot. We're going to be fine."

Said Kevin Durant: "It was a disagreement. It's the game of basketball, you have so many different emotions on one team. You're going to have disagreements. It's not the first, it's not going to be the last. You've just got to know how to respond to each other, and I think we always do a great job of that. It's a disagreement. All teams have them, but luckily on our team we talk it out and don't let it simmer for a long time. Russell came back and responded really, really well for us in the fourth."

With Westbrook, it's never as simple as a "disagreement." It's always perceived as something bigger, always seen as a possible issue that's going to be what stands in the way of the Thunder reaching their full potential. Westbrook is a lightning rod of criticism, and it's most self-inflicted for exactly the reasons displayed against Memphis.

But he runs on emotion and anger. He goaltended Denver's mascot a couple weeks ago, completely unprovoked, and it sparked his team on a 9-0 run which included his game-tying 3-pointer. It's who he is and it's who he's going to be.

The question is if it's going to get in the way of his play, and more importantly, Oklahoma City's. Thursday, it didn't, because he didn't let it. Even if his method of handling it was a bit unorthodox. But when it comes to Russell Westbrook, there aren't too many things done in a traditional manner.

Royce Young's work appears on Daily Thunder. Follow him @dailythunder.

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