Tormented by a string of last-minute misses, heckled by a raucous crowd and forced to contemplate another early postseason exit, Russell Westbrook ran out of patience.
The Jazz closed out the Thunder with a 96-91 victory in Game 6, despite a game-high 46 points, 10 rebounds and five assists from Westbrook, who played 44 minutes and launched 43 shots in a frenzied effort to avoid the season-ending defeat. In the game’s final minute, Oklahoma City attempted seven shots, missing all seven, and endured a controversial no-call on a possible foul to Paul George.
This was, of course, a loss layered in implications: Westbrook had failed to advance in the playoffs for the second straight year, George is an upcoming free agent and Carmelo Anthony barely made a blip against the Jazz.
Before Westbrook could face those harsh realities, though, he twice found himself in altercations with Jazz fans on his way off the court. And he used his postgame press conference to accuse the Salt Lake City crowd of “disrespectful” behavior and to call for greater policing of fan conduct.
“I don’t confront fans,” Westbrook said. “Fans confront me. Here in Utah, a lot of disrespectful, vulgar things are said to the players here. With these fans, it’s truly disrespectful. Talking about your families, your kids. It’s just a disrespect to the game. I think it’s something that needs to be brought up.”
Westbrook’s two incidents both occurred as he departed the court for the locker room. At halftime, Westbrook quickly turned and shouted at an apparent heckler seated near the tunnel. Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and security staffers intervened.
Then, as he approached the same tunnel following the game, Westbrook attempted to knock a fan’s phone out of his hand before another exchange of words. Again, security staffers stepped in to separate the 2017 MVP from the fan.
“I’m tired of just going out and playing and letting fans say what the hell they want to say,” Westbrook continued. “I’m not with that. If I was on the street, they wouldn’t come up to me and say anything crazy because I don’t play that s---. I just think it’s disrespectful and they get the chance to do whatever they want to do, and it needs to be put to a stop. Especially here in Utah.”
Oklahoma City dropped all three of its games at the Vivint Smart Home Arena, which has been one of the league’s loudest arenas during the postseason.
After surviving the Thunder’s late onslaught, the Jazz advanced to the second round to face the Rockets thanks to 38 points from Donovan Mitchell. The electric scoring guard, who entered the playoffs in a tight Rookie of the Year race with Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, finished with the most points by a rookie in a playoff game since Chuck Person in 1987.
Game 1 between the Rockets and Jazz is set for Sunday in Houston.