On Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook and Rockets’ Patrick Beverley faced off for the first time since Beverley injured Westbrook in last year’s playoffs. Halfway through the first quarter, Beverley dove for the ball as Westbrook was preparing to call timeout—exactly what he’d done to injure Westbrook in the playoffs—and things got a little heated. In this week’s column, former-Raptor Mike James writes about the rivalry, playing Beverley and on-court beef in the NBA.
Having played against Beverley, I’ll say this: Nobody likes to be picked up full-court and nobody likes pressure. And he puts pressure on you! He forces you to decide whether to be physical or give in to the pressure. When you put that kind of pressure on your opponent, either the toughness comes or the softness—some players would rather not deal with it. Westbrook has to raise his level of play because Beverley isn’t allowing him to walk through the game. Beverley is forcing him to play at a high-level. If he doesn’t, that’s when turnovers occur. It’s like they say, pressure bursts pipes
But Beverley also took Westbrook out of the game by making it personal. Now Westbrook is thinking about fighting Patrick Beverley instead of thinking about the game plan. That’s when maturity has to come into play on Westbrook’s end, where you don’t allow what someone says or does to you affect the way you play the game.
Every time those two got into it, you’ll notice that Beverley walked away. That’s a strategy, too. Basketball is either push or pull; one person is always putting pressure on the other. It’s like a game of chess with one person continuously on defense while the other attacks the King.
Personally, I’ve always chosen to push and had the attitude on the court of being a bully. I’m always going to be the toughest. I’m going to try to put you in a position where you’re no longer thinking about the game, you’re thinking about me—and not in a positive way. You’re thinking about punching me in the face.
Players got to me that way too, though. Oh my goodness did I hate Darrell Armstrong. He was one of those guys who could change the game without being involved in the offence. Defensively, he could do so many different things and he was such a livewire on that end of the floor that he was able to make game-changing plays—getting steals, forcing turnovers. Playing him, I wanted to just chop him in the neck and get in a brawl. He was crazy.
Hey Mike! Both AI and Big Z got there jerseys retired recently. Do you have any good stories about either of them? —Rich, Toronto.
Injuries can play such a big role in a player’s career. You never truly know how great a player could’ve been when they get hurt. Zydrunas Ilgauskas was one of those guys; his career was always being cut short because of injuries. He had such a soft touch and was so good around the basket and he was big—a seven-footer—so he could get his position regardless of the size and strength of his opponent. He was an all-star, but it’s a shame we’ll never really know how good he could have been.
But Allen Iverson, we know that he’s the greatest basketball player ever six-feet or under. There was “Tiny” Nate Archibald and many other greats, but AI changed the game. When he came into the game as a rookie, hand checking was still allowed. Guys like Derek Harper were great defenders not because of the way they moved their feet but because of how they used their hands. Iverson was able to back them up and that tells you a lot.
Think of the way the game is played today. Iverson came to in the crossover era, when everything was about the crossover, and the league had to change the rules so ball handlers couldn’t put their hand on the bottom of the ball. Well, that was because of him.
And you know what? I understood what he was talking about in that famous ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice’ interview. I knew exactly what he meant by that—I felt him. People took him for a rebel and a renegade—he’s the reason why everyone has to wear suits and ties now—but all he wanted to do was play basketball.