Corey Brewer had one job.
In his defense, when the Thunder took the ball under their own basket leading Houston 103-100 with 7.1 seconds left in last night’s game at Oklahoma City, sticking Russell Westbrook wasn’t technically Brewer’s job. But after a Domantas Sabonis down screen released Westbrook from Trevor Ariza at the weak-side elbow, the unfortunate task of switching to cover the NBA’s resident Weapon X fell to Brewer.
Understand, Brewer is a more-than-serviceable NBA perimeter defender. He is now 30 years old, and although he lacks some of the bounce he played with a decade ago, he remains a 6-foot-9 Slinky-viper who doesn’t get shook easily. His lanky arms and quick feet create a containment unit that is one of the few mentionables in a suspect Rockets defense.
But in the final moments at Chesapeake Energy Arena, Brewer faced a problem: Russ is not of this Earth. When Westbrook popped to the deep ball-side corner calling for the ball, Brewer gamely jumped out, turning his back to the ball, denying and never taking his eyes off the Thunder point guard. The idea: Force someone else to make a play.
Things did not go as planned.
Instead, Westbrook went full Looney Tunes: Braking just as Brewer hit top speed, he screamed back to the ball, all but leaving behind a puff of smoke and Brewer holding a self-pitying sign and a deadpan stare for the camera. Knifing from the wing to the basket utterly unattended, Westbrook set up the easiest assist of Alex Abrines’ young lifetime, catching, elevating and climbing Houston’s 6-10 Clint Capela—no joke of a rim protector—like a treehouse. For good measure, Russ flushed—left hand? Sure, why not?—with such force that he nearly came out of his shoes sticking the landing, as 18,000 Oklahomans lost their collective minds.
The dunk sealed it, of course, and rated as perhaps the most transcendent moment of the early NBA season. But it was instructive, too—a memo to 29 teams. The lesson: You don’t cover Russ. You cover your ass, best as you can, and wait patiently for the carnage to end.