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Why Russell Westbrook deserved his raucous Clippers reception in a losing game

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27th February, 2023

Russell Westbrook entered the game on Saturday with oohs, aahs and applause from an LA Clippers crowd thrilled for his debut for the team.

Fifty-six minutes of game time later, he exited in the second overtime with just as much jubilation.

In the second highest scoring game in NBA history Westbrook, who fouled out after 39 minutes of playing time, poured in 17 points, 14 assists, and five rebounds on an almost 54 per cent shooting clip as the Clippers lost to the Sacramento Kings 176-175 in double overtime. More than the game’s historic relevance, Westbrook’s first game as Clipper provided us with a first taste of what is to come for the other Los Angeles team.

A little over 19,000 flocked inside Arena to witness Westbrook’s debut but were treated to a high-octane ball game that reached a level of scoring the league hasn’t seen in over 40 years. For Westbrook, it was a showcase of fitness with the team, stepping on the gas as he normally would, navigating for open shots and punishing defences with his paint force to alleviate some pressure on stars Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. He made timely baskets – a left-handed layup with 15 ticks left in regulation and a corner three at the 3:32 mark of the first overtime – that exemplified this.

Westbrook was also seen flashing for off-ball opportunities and even screening – a motion he rarely made in his entire career – for a short roll that led to an open corner three in the first quarter of the game. His spurts with centre Mason Plumlee, especially on empty-side pick-and-rolls, were a major takeaway too as he tries to gauge with his new team heading to the postseason.

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Among those 14 assists from Westbrook, he dished out eight that directly resulted in a three-point make, his most in a game in over two years, per ESPN Stats. This display of playmaking may have quenched the Clippers’ thirst for a facilitating guard in their roster this season. As Reggie Jackson and John Wall – both sharing minutes in the point guard position – were shipped out at the trade deadline, Westbrook came into a situation where his playmaking services and whatever is left from his erstwhile MVP tank are in dire need.

Boasting a 33-28 record before Westbrook, the Clippers ranked 21st on offence largely because of an isolation-heavy approach in that end (they were ranked 18th on assist percentage) and a lack of rim pressure (ranked 20th on drives per game). Those facets could have significant bumps with Westbrook on the floor.


Westbrook is averaging 7.5 assists per outing, which ranks just outside the top ten in the league; 12.9 potential assists, which is a pass that leads to a shot, foul or turnover; and 18.5 assist points created, which are points created by a player or a team through their assists, per NBA Stats. Those aforementioned metrics have Westbrook on par with effective playmakers such as Mike Conley, Draymond Green, Domantas Sabonis and even former teammate LeBron James.

With his playmaking prowess, Westbrook should enjoy the Clippers’ marksmanship. Los Angeles are ranked 11th in three-point accuracy, clocking in at 36 per cent. The Clippers also added Eric Gordon, who is shooting at 35 per cent from deep this season in the deadline. Compare that to the Lakers, who are 27th in that department (31.3 per cent from three) – the Clippers shall be feasting on Westbrook-generated looks from here on out.

Westbrook is also recording 15.1 drives per game, tied for 12th most, according to NBA stats. That average almost doubles Wall’s 8.1 drives and Jackson’s 6.7. That, however, led to points only 43 per cent of the time for Westbrook, as he converted only 58 per cent of his shots at the rim this season — a below-average mark for such volume. Be that as it may, the Clippers are betting on his sheer rim pressure that shall oblige defences to loosen up on their shooters and superstars George and Leonard.

The Clippers have been building around George and Leonard in 2019. The arrival of Westbrook to LAC’s depth marks an addition of a star looking to find his redemption. Averaging 17.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, Westbrook equips the Clippers with another weapon offensively, albeit on pretty shaky efficiency – 47 per cent on twos and 29 per cent on threes. Westbrook is also scoring a horrendous 0.99 points per possession, which is at the 13th percentile this season.

On Saturday Westbrook shot 13 times and made seven of them, including the above-mentioned corner three in overtime that triggered a frenzied response from the crowd. He also had a team-high seven turnovers and often allowed easy opportunities on drives. Yet Westbrook’s first game in a Clippers uniform still warrants a reception as hot as he had.

All Westbrook fans and Clippers nation can hope now is for the highlights and strengths to outshine the lowlights and the bad.