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Westbrook, Durant find the perfect balance in Game 4 win over Lakers

May 20, 2012, 5:16 AM EDT

westbrook-game 4

During the Thunder’s playoff run last season — one that ended in a loss in the Conference Finals to the eventual champion Mavericks — there were constant questions about whether or not Russell Westbrook was a good long-term fit to play alongside Kevin Durant.

One year later, now on the verge of taking down the Lakers after a come-from-behind Game 4 victory, the only question now is which one of the Thunder’s stars you want to beat you, and at which time.

Westbrook finished with 37 points, while Durant finished things off with a game-winning three-pointer to lift OKC to a 3-1 series lead — one that gives their team a chance to return to the Conference Finals with a win at home Monday night.

The Thunder can feel as good about this victory as any thus far in the postseason, for the simple fact that they took the best shot that this Lakers team had to give, and they were able to not only withstand it, but overcome it. And much of the credit for that should go to Westbrook.

“KD got his numbers, but Westbrook had a heck of a game,” Lakers head coach Mike Brown noted afterward. “I thought he stepped up and he made plays. He imposed his will on the game and he made plays, especially when it counted in the fourth quarter.”

The Lakers got a monstrous performance from Andrew Bynum (10 points, 5-of-5 shooting) in the game’s first 12 minutes that sparked them early. Kobe Bryant then got going midway through the second period, and put on a clinic during the third, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, often while double-teamed, and always while making the conversion of tough shots seem effortless.

As the Lakers built a lead that hung around 10 points for most of the night, Westbrook made sure it never got out of hand. He had eight points to help match Bynum’s 10 in the first, and 13 to go with Bryant’s 15 in the third.

“My job was to try to keep us in the game, regardless of what was going on” Westbrook said. “I was kind of upset because we weren’t able to get a stop. It kind of felt like, we’re down 10, eight, 10, eight … we just kept going back and forth. So it was kind of frustrating at the same time.”

As recently as a few short days into this lockout-shortened season back in December, Westbrook was frustrated not with his opponent, but with Durant in particular — or maybe, in the grander scheme of things, with his perceived position and role on his team.

There was the so-called “altercation” between Westbrook and Durant, the one where reporters caught them jawing during a timeout in a sideline huddle where the two reportedly had to be separated. That caused quite a stir at the time, and had even the most respected writers wondering if Westbrook playing alongside Durant would ever work in OKC.

It appeared to be an evolution from the previous season — one where the questions of whether or not Westbrook shot too much to his team’s detriment, or whether he deferred enough to Durant were constant topics for discussion.

On this Saturday night in May in Los Angeles, those questions may have once and for all been put to rest. Because even as Westbrook was the one who scored consistently from wire to wire to keep his team close, Durant happily stepped in when his opportunity came to close the game out.

The two worked masterfully together, and coexisted to perfection. There was no exasperation from Durant when he didn’t see the ball for extended stretches, as Westbrook delivered time and again with an array of pull-up jumpers and lightning-quick bursts of speed to the rim for bucket after bucket.

Westbrook wouldn’t be able to take this position of leadership on the team — even if only for games or stretches within them — if not for Durant’s mentoring him along the way.

“It’s definitely helped me,” Westbrook said of the criticisms he’s received in the past. “Last year we got put out in the Conference Finals, I was definitely disappointed in that. Coming into this year, I wanted to try to help my team and become a better leader. Kevin’s done a great job of helping me out and staying positive, regardless of what’s going on throughout the game; giving me confidence, and that’s just how I feel during the playoffs.”

The reason the Lakers lost this game was due to a complete offensive breakdown in the fourth quarter. There was too much of Bryant taking tough, contested shots, while the offense that was so fluid for most of the night turned stagnant.

With Westbrook and Durant, it was the opposite.

Simply put, Durant stayed ready and engaged while Westbrook went to work. And having two incredible athletes who are equal parts scorer and playmaker are a deadly one-two punch that now looks like a combination that will need to be reckoned with by any team with championship aspirations.

The questions being asked in Oklahoma City will no longer involve Westbrook and Durant, and whether or not the two can successfully make things work. All fans want to know now is whether the Thunder’s first trip to the NBA Finals will come this season, or if they’ll have to wait just a little longer for the inevitable to take place.

  1. jizzojames - May 20, 2012 at 6:27 AM

    Who’s the better Guard to Forward competition? Wade and Lebron or Westbrook and Durant? I think OKC may be on to something for YEARS TO COME!!

  2. passerby23 - May 20, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    Re-signing Harden is going to be crucial for the Thunder’s development. His price tag is going to be high in the off-season and I wonder if the Thunder can afford him. If they can, they are instant contenders again. It just seems impossible right now to take down the Spurs this year.

  3. therealroman - May 20, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    There was the so-called “altercation” between Westbrook and Durant, the one where reporters caught them jawing during a timeout in a sideline huddle where the two reportedly had to be separated. That caused quite a stir at the time, and had even the most respected writers wondering if Westbrook playing alongside Durant would ever work in OKC.
    ———————————————————–
    see that’s the problem with you guys right there, it’s an emotional sport, you basically batlle for 48 minutes to come up victorious, so it’s gonna get ugly from time to time. whyy always make a big deal out of it though? those two have been playing awesome basketball together and they’re still evolving as players, so watch the game and talk about the game but don#t always try to stir up stuff just to create news

  4. mpact63 - May 20, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    I had a vision the other day.I saw Kevin Durant donning a championship tee shirt, and holding the championship trophy over his head.I believe I saw the future even moreso, now!

    • pudgalvin - May 20, 2012 at 10:29 AM

      Let’s not forget that this is only the second round of the playoffs. They still have to get through the machine that is the Spurs right now; a team that has had the Thunder’s number for a couple years now. A lot of these questions could start to resurface if things don’t go well in the next round.

  5. jbizzzle - May 20, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    OKC is going to dominate for years to come and looks like LA need to rebuild!!! There stars are getting old and I don’t think Bynum has the leadership and influence to put a team on his back.

  6. lemfax - May 20, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    That’s what I’m talking about. The story is different if they put Durant on Kobe in the 4th qtr of the game 3 (and a mistake of playing fisher on the 4 qtr guarding Kobe).
    Kobe’s hearth is unbeatable but not the legs…

  7. progress2011 - May 20, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    There are about 50 bloggers that are kobe fans (fake laker fans) that monitor this msnbc blog, every minute on the hour.

    There have been three stories posted about the laker failure last night and I have stated the obvious on each……

    1. kobe never learned how to play fundamental basketball and should have played a few years of college ball
    2. He is ” AT BEST” a ” Good Volume Shooter ” , with the green light from the coach to jack up any ill-advised shot he wants.
    3. Historically he has always been a detriment to team chemistry, rhythm or game plans, because when he enters into ” I wanna be like Mike mode” he’s jacking up every ball he gets his hands on.

    Under normal conditions, I would have received over 50 inflammatory, curse word laced personal attacks and thumbs down.

    So, I guess the kobe fans are still crying in their milk, under the realization that dude has BLOWN two games single handily.

    Where are my 50 thumbs down and personal attacks…..ahahahaaha

    • beardown2489 - May 20, 2012 at 1:24 PM

      Whats the difference between someone who spends their time worshiping Kobe and someone who spends their time hating on Kobe?

      Get a life,

      Sincerely,
      Logic

      • progress2011 - May 20, 2012 at 5:33 PM

        bearddown……It’s the PLAYOFFS SCRUB ! Anybody that loves REAL B-Ball is blogging about who they like or do not like.

        Do you have something to contribute or refute my facts !

        If not, get lost….B-Ball fans are talking here !

    • loungefly74 - May 20, 2012 at 8:41 PM

      progress, how is your team doing? Oh…that’s right…you don’t have a team…pipe down.

      yeah, the Lakers blew another game. hey, stuff happens. Am I pissed that the Lakers could be up 3-1 and are not? sure…but its not the end of the world. As my team (my team, progress, something you don’t have as you just a hater and don’t have a personal team), the Lakers, give us fans a great team to root for every year. just because kobe has some bad games, i don’t turn on my team/players…as judging by your comments, i’m sure you turn heel on anyone at the drop of a dime. i stick with my team through the bad and good.

      so…go screw yourself and your lame comments. you have little respect for anything and i have zilch for you.

      • progress2011 - May 20, 2012 at 11:12 PM

        maggot loungefly – what took you so long ! I have been waiting on your other 49 Faker friends that hawk this site.

        Your comment states ” yeah, the Fakers blew another game” !

        Let’s be clear…..” kobe” blew the game !

        Not Pau, not Bynum, not Coach Brown….kobe went into ” I wanna be like Mike mode” and jacked up all those bricks !!!

        Stop trying to shift blame to others…..(just got a new box of salt) ….

        kobe’s game skills more closely resembles that of Curly Neal, the famous Harlem Globetrotter, instead of that of the ” Fundamentally Sound ” Michael Jordan !!!!

      • loungefly74 - May 21, 2012 at 11:48 AM

        the Lakers as a team blew it. kobe does take the brunt for it as he made critical errors and as the leader, deserves to take the blame.

  8. ezmagic - May 20, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I hope lebron was watching Durant take and make that game winning shot and that was after he missed 2 FTs to take the lead…Something lebron will never do. The fat lady is warming up to sing for both LA teams and the heat.

    • progress2011 - May 20, 2012 at 11:39 AM

      ez…

      Michael Jordan spoiled us because he was a Hero on the court, night in and night out. But because he played college ball at one of the premier basketball universities in the nation, he also learned fundamentals.

      In the game of Team Ball vs Hero Ball, the right basketball play, is to pass it to the open man….which kobe will never / has never done!

      Which is why he should have played a few years of college ball to learn fundamentals and decision making…how to make the ” right basketball play”.

      So, when LBJ is triple teamed and passes the ball to the wide open man, with seconds left on the clock, that’s the right ” Fundamental Basketball Play ” to make.

      Fundamental Basketball will beat Hero ball, everyday of the week and twice on Sundays.

      Learn the game !

  9. mrhonorama - May 20, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    Westbrook was a big part of the comeback…but he was also a big part of why the Thunder were down most of the game. He is generally a distracted defender, who let Sessions and Blake get easy baskets on a regular basis. Yes, he was the high scorer, but he let the guys he was guarding have success that a better effort would have thwarted. Obviously, Rondo and Paul are better on D, and while D-Rose is never going to be All-Defense, he’s clearly a more engaged defender.

    • tommy972 - May 20, 2012 at 1:27 PM

      Please don’t bring Derrick Rose in here. He can’t even stay healthy enough to defend anyone. And Russell is a better shooter than Rajon. Westbrook is doing just fine on defense and will only get better.

      • mrhonorama - May 20, 2012 at 1:49 PM

        If fine on defense means letting inferior players beat you off the dribble and spacing out and leaving your man wide open for corner threes, yes, Westbrook is doing fine. Westbrook clearly has the physical gifts to be a great defender, but doesn’t seem to have the concentration or desire. Some of this may be due to coaching, or lack thereof. And what Westbrook being a better shooter than Rondo has to do with defense is beyond me.

  10. cinnalocks - May 20, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    Non of this would even matter had Pau not thrown the ball away….

  11. Richard Phillips - May 20, 2012 at 1:28 PM

    Kobe isn’t who you think he is: http://thesportsdump.com/2012/05/20/nba-playoffs-recaps-and-previews/

  12. avermaver - May 20, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    I question the coaching of the Thunder as their offense seems to be letting their three scorers take turns trying to beat the other team by themselves but they are a very talented group with a lot of confidence. I won’t be sad at all to see this Laker team put to rest, the Kobe show loses entertainment value with each rerun.

  13. tundra11 - May 20, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    Kobe is done. It’s time for him to do the right ting and retire so the Lakers can start the inevitable rebuilding process. But knowing Kobe he will keep telling the Laker management “just one more run…get me a team so I can get another ring” until the Lakers are so far destroyed they won’t win another championship in our lifetime. Kobe, take all your Eagle, Colorado baggage and hit the road, please.

    • loungefly74 - May 20, 2012 at 8:45 PM

      you are the worst kind of Laker fan…if you are one…that is.

      • tundra11 - May 20, 2012 at 10:27 PM

        I absolutely loathe the Lakers. I loathe that selfish, whiny, volume shooting, ball hogging, maid raping Kobe Bryant more. Just to be clear.

      • loungefly74 - May 21, 2012 at 11:44 AM

        gotcha. so your opinion has no value to me. thanks for making that clear. have a nice life…you weirdo (who is concerned so greatly about a player on a team he hates???)…get a F-ing life loser.

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