How Westbrook's speech 'willed' the Wizards to a comeback win originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Going into this season, before Russell Westbrook had ever played a game for the Wizards, head coach Scott Brooks and others raved about his leadership and the tone he sets for his teammates. They believed he would make a winning impact on the Wizards with his intangibles as much as his rebounding, passing and scoring.
On Wednesday night, we saw that come to life at the end of the first quarter. Westbrook ripped into his teammates about their effort in key areas the Denver Nuggets were beating them en route to an early 20-point lead.
The Wizards caught momentum soon after that and rode it to a 46-23 second quarter. They would end up winning the game, their third straight, despite a see-saw ending.
"I thought Russell willed us into that second quarter. He was saying a few things that were probably well-deserved to some guys that needed to hear it," Brooks said.
Westbrook didn't play his best game, despite having a triple-double (12 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists). He had eight turnovers, five fouls and shot just 5-for-15 (33.3%).
But him speaking up helped change the energy of the team. That, and a barrage of threes from Davis Bertans certainly helped.
"I think it's great to have a guy like Russ on the team," Bertans said. "That keeps the part of coaching to coaches [when] he's getting on somebody and keeping everybody accountable. He's that guy and he helps us. Even if he says something to somebody, we don't take it personal. We know that everybody wants to win, he wants to win and that everything he says is for the betterment of the team."
Both Bradley Beal and Robin Lopez said Westbrook's message was about defensive effort and giving up too many second-chance points. The Nuggets had 13 second-chance points in the first quarter, but only 10 the rest of the game including zero in the fourth quarter.
"It was just we had to pick up our intensity. They weren't doing anything special, they were just playing harder than we were," Beal said.
"He was just letting us know that it was too easy for them out there," Lopez said.
Now, there were some moments in this game that made it seem like the Wizards won in spite of Westbrook. In the final 2:07 of the fourth quarter, he had two bad misses; one on a contested three when he had Rui Hachimura open and the other with 1:12 to go, this one in the midrange, with Nikola Jokic all over him and nine seconds left on the shot clock.
Westbrook can be a double-edged sword. But in this particular game, his contribution as a leader made a big difference, according to those involved.
Tune in to NBC Sports Washington at 9 p.m. on Saturday for full coverage of the Wizards' next game against the Trail Blazers