OKLAHOMA CITY — The way Kevin Martin describes it, the Oklahoma City Thunder lost the “vision” of a potential championship run the morning they learned All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook would be out for the rest of the postseason.
Despite fighting to the end in a series of narrow losses to Memphis, the Thunder’s season — which seemed so promising even when the playoffs began — is over much sooner than expected following a five-game loss in the Western Conference semifinals.
After making it to the NBA Finals a year earlier, Oklahoma City claimed the No. 1 seed in the West and was the favorite to make it back and challenge the Miami Heat for the title.
“We lost the guy that has the keys to our car,” Martin said Thursday.
The Thunder’s offense fizzled without Westbrook’s scoring punch and ability to create shots for teammates. To make matters worse, they drew the Grizzlies and their league-best defense in the second round. Three-time scoring champion Kevin Durant tried to pick up the slack, but to no avail.
“Let’s face it, Russell’s really good. He’s not only one of the best point guards, he’s one of best players in the league,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He has earned that with all of the work he has put in. He has a great work ethic and a great attitude to improve every day, and his will to win is at the highest level.
“We are a much better team — there’s no ands, ifs, buts about that. But we’re not an excuse team either.”
Right up until the end, the club believed it could overcome even Westbrook’s injury, suffered in a chance collision with Houston’s Patrick Beverley in Game 2 of the first round. But after winning the next game, Oklahoma City went 2-6 without Westbrook.