Lakers allow Russell Westbrook to miss final possession after Darvin Ham opts not to call timeout

Lakers allow Russell Westbrook to miss final possession after Darvin Ham opts not to call timeout

Lakers allow Russell Westbrook to miss final possession after Darvin Ham opts not to call timeout

Russell Westbrook played a good game for the Lakers on Sunday. He finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, picking up his fourth triple-double on the bench, the most in recorded history. He’s doing good things for this Lakers team. He’ll never suit LeBron James, but he’s doing some good things.

Those good things, unfortunately, rarely come at the critical moment, when Westbrook is an impulsive, wild card player who simply can’t be counted on to reign in his stubborn confidence and get out of his own way — and that of the Lakers.

It happened again on Sunday when Westbrook decided to face Joel Embiid in game-ending possession, with the Lakers trailing, rather than give the ball to James. To say possession didn’t work out would be an understatement. It was a disaster.

First, let’s give credit to Westbrook. He defended Embiid at the other end, holding on as Embiid tried to run him back to force a fade from the foul line, which Embiid missed. Westbrook got the rebound. He had done his job. Final possession should have belonged to James.

LeBron could have been more assertive collecting the ball from Westbrook, but he was on the other side of the court and the clock was ticking. Once it was clear that Westbrook would attack, he decided to stay spaced out. This is where Darvin Ham should have saved Westbrook from himself and ensured the game ended under LeBron’s watch by calling a time out. But Ham said afterwards that he never considered calling a timeout because he liked the Westbrook vs. Embiid game.

“I’m going to take this scenario every day of the week and twice on Sundays,” Ham said.

Absolutely not. He’s a coach who tries to have his guy’s back and maybe protect his own. This possession was a wreck, and you could see it unfold almost in slow motion. Even though Ham initially liked the game, once Westbrook fumbled the ball there was no way it was going to work. If Ham had called time out at that point, with about seven seconds left on the clock, he could have engineered a play to get the ball from LeBron and ensure the Lakers had a good look at the basket.

Coaches love “matches” more than they should. A lot of data suggests this, but there should be a gut feeling at play here, an instinct. Anyone who has seen Russ force action in situations like this knew how it would go. It was happening in a familiar way. Ham had time to stop him. He did not do it.

To be fair, Westbrook appears to have been fouled on Embiid’s play. Westbrook affirmed that after the game when he also said he knew this game wasn’t decided by a single possession, even the last one.

Westbrook could very well have a point on the foul.

To look closer.

We’ll see when the final two-minute report comes out on Monday. Lakers fans have been listening to this a lot lately. But for me, a bad call would have bailed out a bad decision in the first place. It’s simple again: Westbrook shouldn’t have been allowed to control that possession.

Often in these situations, it is better not to call a timeout when catching the defense in transition than to give them a chance to score. Certainly, when the ball is already in the hands of the player, you would design the game anyway. But that was not the case here. The Sixers had all five guys back, and the best player didn’t have the ball. Westbrook had, on paper I guess, what Ham thinks is an advantageous matchup, but the only thing you take ‘every day of the week and twice on Sundays’ is LeBron James over Russell Westbrook when he gets is about creating an attack in a game-winning possession.

It’s the second time Ham has potentially botched an endgame situation in the past three days. On Friday, he allowed Luka Doncic to go one-on-one rather than blitz/double him with the Lakers by three. Doncic again, quite predictably, hit the tie-breaking 3-pointer as the Lakers ultimately lost in double overtime.

“I kick myself in the ass,” Ham said afterwards. “I have to train a bit better in this case. We should have blitzed [Luka]. Or at least forced him inside the 3-point line.”

Failing to force the ball out of Doncic’s hands with a double team wasn’t Ham’s biggest mistake – or first – in this situation. The Lakers should have foul to start. Those coaches who let teams go for 3-point draws in the final seconds rather than commit a foul apparently don’t believe in math. We like to say that coaches fall into two camps when dealing with up to three scenarios at the end of games: the foul pool and the no-foul pool. That’s an understatement. It should be the intelligent group and the unintelligent group.

Either way, Ham had a chance to salvage one for the Lakers on Sunday putting them in at least the best position to win. This position was with the ball in the hands of LeBron. Not Westbrook’s. That doesn’t mean LeBron would have hit a winner or found a teammate for a winner. No one can predict the future. You simply play the smart odds. A timeout should have been called. This was not the case. And the Lakers lost. It really is that simple.

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