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Russell Westbrook on shoving fan: 'You gotta be able to protect the players'

After shoving a fan who walked on the court following Denver Nuggets guard Gary Harris’ buzzer-beating, game-winning 3-pointer to knock off his Oklahoma City Thunder, reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook called it “unacceptable” that the fan made it onto the court at all, and called on the NBA to “protect the players.”

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The fan, evidently energized by the thrilling conclusion of the game, wandered over to Westbrook got in his face. Westbrook responded by using his left hand to push the fan away, then gestured toward a TNT cameraman as if to wonder how the guy got there in the first place. Westbrook then stood perfectly still, watching as a late-arriving referee and arena official — and a very-unhappy-looking Thunder center Steven Adams — came over to address the fan and get him off the court.

After the game, Westbrook — who finished with 20 points, 21 assists, nine rebounds, two steals and a block in 39 minutes of floor time, but whose apparent lapse in defensive focus allowed Harris to break free for the game-winning triple — expressed his displeasure at the fact that the fan was even in a position for the interaction to occur.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook reacts. (AP)

From ESPN:

Asked whether he felt that shoving the fan was the only way for him to protect himself, Westbrook responded, “Of course.”

“You gotta be able to protect the players, man,” he said. “The fans are obviously there to enjoy the game, but they can’t come onto the floor. That’s totally unacceptable.

“They’ll look at it and figure out what’s the best way to deal with it, but to me, that’s just totally unacceptable.”

The NBA has said it will review the incident.

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One of the things that makes the NBA great is that there’s almost no separation between players and fans. Unlike the NHL, where a wall of boards and glass divides us from the game, or the NFL, where enormous moats of sideline areas circle the field, we — and especially fans sitting courtside, mere feet away from the playing surface — get so close to the action that we can hear every sneaker squeak, see every grin and grimace, and practically feel the intensity of every interaction.

“Practically,” though, is a very important word here! In exchange for getting to enjoy the heightened level of intimacy that watching an NBA game live presents, you have to abide by certain rules — in this case, the NBA Fan Code of Conduct, which stipulates that “guests will not engage in fighting, throwing objects or attempting to enter the court, and those who engage in any of these actions will immediately be ejected from the game.” In spite of those rules, though, we see fans step over the line from time to time — most frequently, in recent years, in Cleveland, but elsewhere too — and get dealt with accordingly.

It’s incumbent on team and arena personnel to remain vigilant, even in the chaos that can follow a game-winner, to ensure that players don’t find themselves surprisingly face-to-face with screaming hordes on the floor. Because we shouldn’t have to rely on Russell Westbrook displaying remarkable restraint — and here’s hoping he doesn’t get any sort of fine or penalty from the league for first offering an exceedingly human immediate response, then freezing to avoid escalating things further — to prevent a worst-case scenario interaction from play out again.

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Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@oath.com or follow him on Twitter!