Collision Course: Patrick Beverley, Russell Westbrook and the Play That Changed the Western Conference Playoffs

Let’s start in 2007, when Patrick Beverly was 19, two years older than his mother was when Patrick was born. An absent father who was a local hoops star in his own youth.  Beverley grew up on the west side of Chicago.  The Chicago playgrounds have long been a hoops hotbed.  Derrick Rose is the latest in a long line of Chicago-raised NBA royalty.  Before Rose, there was Dwayne Wade.  Before Wade, there was Antoine Walker.  Before Walker, there was Isaiah Thomas.  Before Isaiah, there was Maurice Cheeks.  Chicago is a gritty place, with some of the highest levels of poverty and violence in the United States.  Basketball is a way out for so many poor teenagers.

The excellent 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, examines the lives of two teenage Chicago hoops prospects and their less-than-glorious paths. It bears mentioning that for every All-American high school basketball player that makes it to the NBA, there are hundreds that don’t every decade. The 6’1” Chicago prep standout, Beverly starred in the 2007 sequel to Hoop Dreams, titled Hoop Reality. A year later, reality would sink in.

Patrick Beverly in a high-school slam competition in 2005.

Patrick Beverly in a high-school slam competition in 2005.

Patrick Beverley was not a high school All-American.  However, he was dominant enough at John Marshall High School to receive a scholarship to play at Arkansas.  After earning SEC Freshman of the Year Honors in 2006, Beverley’s name was in the college spotlight heading into his sophomore year.  In that second season at Arkansas, Beverley averaged 12.1 points per game, collecting an impressive 6.6 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game. Beverley became embroiled in an academic investigation that led to a junior year suspension–though later it became known that several Arkansas players were suspected of cheating, Beverley was the only player suspended.  ESPN reported that the issues were connected to fraudulent papers, written for players on the Arkansas basketball team.  The suspension resulted in Beverley seeking an early start to his professional basketball life, leading both he and his mother to the Ukraine in 2008.

Imagine you are a 19 year-old seeking a life in professional basketball, and you’re not quite good enough, or physically imposing enough (at only 6’1″) to get drafted, but you know there is a future in the game for you somewhere.  You get an agent, and you begin hunting for a team, somewhere, willing to take a chance on you.  And you bring your mother, your sole source of stability, with you.  Welcome to Kiev, young Mr. Beverley.

Patrick Beverley’s Long and Winding Path to the NBA

John Marshall High School Chicago, IL 2003-2006  
University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR 2006-2008 SEC Freshman of Year, 2007, Wooden Award Candidate, 2008
Dnipro Dipropetrovsk Ukraine 2008-2009
Olympiacos Pieraeus Greece 2009-2010  
Spartak St. Petersburg Russia 2011-2012  2nd-Tier EuroCup MVP
Houston Rockets Houston, TX January 2013-current  

 *Drafted in 2nd Round (42nd) by Los Angeles Lakers, 2009 draft.  Decided to stay in Europe. Signed by Miami Heat in August, 2010.  Released by Miami Heat at end of training camp, October, 2010.  Signed with Houston Rockets on January 7, 2013. Assigned to D-League Rio Grande Vipers.

Beverley has gained minutes and confidence in Houston as the year has progressed.  His lateral quickness and physicality are reminiscent of both Avery Bradley and Eric Bledsoe.  The kind of ball pressure that changes the flow of the game.  The kind of fearlessness that stems from never backing down, the way every other Russell Westbrook opponent has backed down over the years. Kevin McHale and Daryl Morey decided to go extra small and start Beverley in place of power forward Greg Smith in Game 2 against Oklahoma City.

Let’s think about Westbrook for a moment.  A tremendous athlete, who one might envision as an All-Pro running back in the NFL with his combination of speed and strength, Westbrook is perhaps the most dangerous NBA guard in the open court.  When it comes to penetration, only Ty Lawson, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose compare to Westbrook.  Unlike the diminutive Lawson, Parker, and Rondo, Westbrook is 6’3” and capable of jumping over defenders, dunking on big men or getting to the line at will.  Like Rose, he is not a pure point guard, but an in-between guard, whose passing has improved during his five-year career, and whose determination and sheer force of will are remarkable.

Teamed with the most lethal scorer in the game today, Kevin Durant, Westbrook flourishes in the pick-and-roll sets the Oklahoma City runs, though he is prone to over-dribbling and can get bogged down in the half-court.

Confidence vs. Arrogance

Personality-wise, I have never been a fan of Westbrook.  Certain players exude a kind of arrogance on the court that can detract from their likability.  Kobe’s scowl comes to mind.  Westbrook flashes a flexed-muscle pose while running back down the court after particularly big plays, or dunks.  He is high on himself.  Before the play by Beverley, he likely viewed himself as indestructible, having played five seasons without missing a single game.

The line between utter confidence and arrogance is a fine one, but it seems clear that Westbrook lives on the arrogant side of swagger whereas Steph Curry, Tony Parker and Lawson are pure confidence.

Westbrook was only 5’8″ as a high school freshman, and didn’t make his varsity team until his junior year.  By his senior year, however, he had grown to 6′ and was dominating opponents.  Not a standout on a UCLA team full of eventual NBA players, Westbrook’s relative anonymity didn’t keep the Seattle Sonics (remember them?) from selecting him 4th overall in the 2008 draft.

As a pro, next to Kevin Durant, Westbrook has developed into an two-time All-NBA second-team selection.  His size, athleticism, and leaping ability allow him to dunk over big men, beat opponents down the court, and likely create the kind of in-your-face attitude that Westbrook displays, at times showing up the competition with his bravado.

Westbrook’s dominance on the court can’t be argued, but his leadership skills are debatable.  Durant has always been the quiet leader of OKC, while Westbrook was more vocal.  Harden’s self-assuredness and playmaking haven’t been missed because of the development of Serge Ibaka’s offensive game and Kevin Martin’s bench scoring.  Oklahoma City’s balance has now been thrown off.

The Play:

As Beverley dove for the ball, his hip met the outside of Westbrook’s knee.  Westbrook was standing upright about to call timeout.  The contact was incidental, though some critics are calling the play “dirty” and “bush league.”  Some of that criticism comes from the fact that Beverly is not an established star in the league. Beverley’s attack-mode defense altered the game and was something of a shock to Westbrook throughout Game 2, leading up to the moment of their collision.  Beverley’s contagious energy and fearlessness invigorated the Rockets and made for an exciting finish, which Oklahoma City pulled out in the end.  Watching Beverley, it’s impossible not to notice his hunger.  Try and find another player in these playoffs with that energy.  The Celtics needed Bradley to come out with his typical assertiveness, but as a point guard, Bradley has struggled mightily.  Tony Allen and Reggie Evans play with that level of intensity.  When healthy, Kenneth Faried has it.

The Result:

Lateral meniscus tear.  Westbrook will miss the rest of the playoffs.  The role of MVP-candidate and scoring wizard Kevin Durant becomes even more important, though a combination of Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka’s scoring, and Reggie Jackson’s multi-purpose contributions might end up becoming the more necessary ingredients for the Thunder if they hope to advance past the second round.

The Thunder won a tightly-contested Game 3, behind 41 points from Durant and solid contributions from Ibaka, Martin and Jackson.

With one more victory, the Thunder will meet the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers-Memphis Grizzlies series, which heads back to Staples Center for Game 5 on Tuesday.

While the injury is certainly unfortunate for Westbrook, for Oklahoma City and for NBA fans hoping to see Oklahoma City challenge Miami in a rematch of last year’s Finals, the West bracket just became much more intriguing.

Though Oklahoma City squeaked out the win against Houston, 105-102, Patrick Beverley put his named on the map with a breakout game that showed incredible determination.  It was the culmination of a long and winding road for Beverley.  Even if Houston gets bounced in Game 4 from these playoffs, Beverley will have finally made it.  If Russell Westbrook or any commentators want to rip him for “causing” the injury on an accidental play, that’s their issue.

Beverley’s final line in Game 2: 41 minutes, 7 of 13 FGM-FGA, 2-4 from distance, 5 offensive rebounds, 12 total, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 block, 3 turnovers, 16 points, and +/- of +4.  Only Asik (+12) was more helpful for Houston, from that standpoint.  Welcome to the Association, Patrick Beverley.

Jonah Hall writes the Darko Index because of the NBA Playoffs and stories like the one of Patrick Beverley.  

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2 thoughts on “Collision Course: Patrick Beverley, Russell Westbrook and the Play That Changed the Western Conference Playoffs

  1. OK says:

    Seriously. This moron tried to hurt Westbrook twice. He got him the second time. He’s a dirty player and does not belong in the NBA. They shouldput skates on his dumbass and see how he does in the NHL. Took out one of the best players in the league, on purpose, and this D-League scrub has nothing to answer for. I’d have thrown him out of the game for life.

    • ddarqwon says:

      Unclench yourself from Westbrook’s sack please.
      There was nothing dirty about the play, in fact Westbrook has done the exact same thing himself on more than one occasion.

      When you lose objectivity you lose credibility/

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