DALLAS — Russell Westbrook didn’t attempt to sugarcoat anything after one of the least efficient offensive performances of his career, declaring that he has been letting down his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates far too often.
“I’ve just got to do a better job, man,” Westbrook said after scoring only nine points on 4-of-22 shooting in a 105-103 loss Sunday to the Dallas Mavericks. “It’s really on me. I’ve been s— the last month or so. I’ve just got to get focused in and locked back in on what I need to do. I’ve got to help my guys out. I’ve been letting them down, man, just not being consistent on the offensive end.
“Defensively, I’m fine, but just being more consistent, because I pride myself on being the most consistent player in the league. I come out every night and compete, play hard and all that stuff. Missing and making shots is a part of the game, but I’ve got to do a better job, and that’s on me. I’m going to definitely do that, so I’m not really worried. We play tomorrow, and I’ll be better from then on. It’s on me.”
Sunday’s game, the Thunder’s third loss in their past four, marked the first time that Westbrook, a seven-time All-Star and the 2016-17 NBA MVP, has failed to score in double figures when he attempted at least 20 shots from the floor. He has taken at least that many shots in 353 games, including the playoffs. He has made fewer than four field goals on at least 20 attempts only once, when he was 3-of-22 from the floor in an April 22, 2012, loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Westbrook scored 40 points on 17-of-29 shooting in a win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, but as he noted, he has been struggling offensively this month. Westbrook is shooting only 37.2 percent from the floor in December, which is the third-lowest percentage for a month in his career and his worst since December 2009, his second NBA season.
Westbrook, who was 0-of-8 from 3-point range on Sunday and is shooting only 24.2 percent from long distance this season, said he doesn’t feel out of rhythm or off mechanically with his shot.
“Nah, nah, nah,” said Westbrook, who had nine rebounds, eight assists and six steals. “I’ve been in worse positions, man. It’s not the worst thing. We’re third in the West. We’re winning games. It’s not about me. My job is to make sure we win games. I bring so much more to the game of basketball than offense. I defend at a high level, rebound, pass, whatever. I’ll do whatever for us to win games.
“So for me, I’m a basketball player. I’m very, very hard on myself because I’m able to do everything on the floor. And I don’t really think there’s many other guys in the league that play the game the way I do every night, so I pride myself on doing everything at a high level every night. If it’s scoring one night, then it’s assists and rebounding, whatever it is, defending — I pride myself on doing everything at a high level every single night. I’m going to be tougher on myself than anybody, so I’m not worried one bit.”
Paul George, who scored a game-high 36 points for the Thunder, had only one piece of advice for his co-star: “Stay aggressive.”
That was backed up by Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan, who took no issue with Westbrook’s shot selection in the loss, which dropped the Thunder to 22-13 and 1 1/2 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the top spot in the Western Conference. Donovan said Oklahoma City needs Westbrook to take open shots to prevent defenders from sagging off of him and making it more difficult for him to attack downhill off the dribble.
“My thing is getting clean looks,” Donovan said. “And you’ve got to keep taking those shots. Those are good shots for him. Clearly he has shot below what he’s capable of shooting. But like I said earlier, I’m not worried about it. As long as we’re generating good shots, that’s the biggest thing. And I think you want obviously a great player like Russell, if he can get open shots, you want him taking those.”
Westbrook mostly deferred to George down the stretch on Sunday. After missing a pull-up 3 with 5 minutes, 20 seconds remaining, Westbrook went almost five minutes without attempting a shot. George had scored 11 straight points for the Thunder during that span, capping his flurry with a deep 3-pointer that gave Oklahoma City a six-point lead with 1:50 remaining.
With the Thunder clinging to a one-point lead, Westbrook missed a 23-foot pull-up jumper with 37.7 seconds remaining. Dallas regained the lead on a driving layup by point guard Dennis Smith Jr., and then George missed a difficult stepback jumper while tightly defended by Smith with four seconds remaining.
After Mavs center DeAndre Jordan split a pair of free throws, Westbrook had a chance at the game-winner but missed a one-legged 3-pointer from the left corner. He got the inbounds pass after Dallas denied George, who was the primary option on the play.
While Westbrook accepted accountability for his offensive struggles — his scoring has dipped to 20.6 points per game on 42.1 percent shooting, his lowest in both categories since 2008-09 — he made it clear that his confidence hasn’t been shaken. He was adamant that he’d continue to be aggressive and pointed out that he’s a dominant all-around player.
“My approach never changes,” said Westbrook, who leads the NBA in assists (10.1 per game) and steals (2.7) and all guards in rebounding (10.7). “Like I said, scoring the basketball is not the only thing I can do. I’m the best rebounder at my position, the best passer at my position, the best defender at my position. I can do everything, and I pride myself on doing that. And every night, I put a lot of pressure on myself to do it every single night. If the scoring ain’t it that night, then I’ll give it to somebody else to do it. I have no problem. My teammates have confidence in what I’m able to do, and I have confidence in them. So I just read the game, and the game will tell you what to do.
“Every year, I try to come back and find ways to be a better leader and impact the game. This year, we have a better team. Guys are better, so I don’t have to do as much. I don’t have to score 30 to impact the game, but I guarantee you I impact the game and teams know when I’m on the floor I can do whatever I need to do to make sure that we have a chance to win the game.”