Wednesday night’s game between the Wizards and Warriors was billed as a battle between the NBA’s two top scorers, Bradley Beal and Stephen Curry, as they duke it out for the scoring title late in the season. Russell Westbrook, though, had other ideas.
He was assigned to guard Curry, who came into the game averaging 40.0 points in his previous 11 games while shooting 49.7% from three. Against the Wizards, he scored 18 points and went 2-for-14 from long range. That was the worst shooting night of Curry’s career among games with at least 14 3-point attempts, a sample size that now includes 82 games.
Somehow, the Wizards neutralized the hottest player on the planet. Though it took a team effort, Westbrook set the tone.
“Russ made it his mission and his challenge tonight to make things tough for Steph,” Bradley Beal said.
Westbrook was active all night guarding Curry, particularly beyond the 3-point line. He kept him uncomfortable with quick closeouts and consistent contact, bumping him off course to the extent the referees would allow it.
Behind Westbrook was help from his big men, who sprinted to the top of the key to blitz off screens and run him into double-teams inside the perimeter.
It was a strategy many teams try and it doesn’t always work. But Westbrook led the charge on top of recording a triple-double that included tying a career-high with 20 rebounds.
“Russell did a great job. He doesn’t get enough credit for the defense because he switches and… he can guard one through four as well as anyone in the league,” head coach Scott Brooks said.
Westbrook was relayed that statement by his coach, that his defense is underrated. Then, he delivered one of the best quotes of the entire NBA season.
“You know what? Definitely. I feel like I’m a player that can do it all. Defend, score; whatever it is that needs to be done,” he said.
“My job changes every night and I feel like I’m one of those players that if I need to defend at a high level, I can do that, too. If I need to score at a high level, I can do that. Pass, I can do that. Rebound, I can do that. You want me to coach? S—, I can do that, too. I just feel like I can do everything.”
Westbrook said he took pride in guarding Curry, who like him is a former MVP and destined to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer someday. It was key in the Wizards getting their sixth straight win, a season-high streak. They have won eight of their last nine games.
The win also pushed the Wizards into sole ownership of the final spot in the play-in tournament. It was a big-time win and Westbrook played an important role in getting it.
“Steph’s been on a hot streak, he’s been playing really well and I took the challenge to start the game to make sure he didn’t continue his streak on us tonight,” Westbrook said.