May 28, 2014, 12:21 AM EST
In the first two games of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs demolished the Thunder with precision execution on the offensive end of the floor, and enough defense against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to force them into low-efficiency performances.
Serge Ibaka returned in Game 3, and so did Oklahoma City’s collective swagger. But in Game 4, it was Durant and especially Westbrook who took control, and ensured the Thunder would even the series at two games apiece.
Behind an incredible 40 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals, Westbrook produced a statistical line matched only by Michael Jordan over the past 30 years in leading OKC to a 105-92 victory that wasn’t at all that close.
“Russell’s defensive toughness really set the tone in this game I thought,” said Thunder head coach Scott Brooks afterward. And as monstrous as Westbrook was offensively — playing efficiently and under control, while distributing to his teammates at the same time — his defensive intensity was what really made the biggest difference.
The Thunder have beaten the Spurs seven straight times with Ibaka in the lineup, and while he was fine in this one with nine points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, this game was about Westbrook on both ends of the floor, and Durant picking his spots.
This season’s MVP wasn’t exactly invisible in finishing with 31 points, and did most of his damage in the second quarter where he scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting in just nine minutes of action. But Westbrook was everywhere, disrupting the Spurs offense by getting into the passing lanes and then making largely smart decisions offensively.
There’s a “let Westbrook be Westbrook” mantra chanted by his supporters, which essentially means that his frenetic style of play is bound to produce some frustrating sequences, and that you need to accept the good with the bad in order to truly embrace the Thunder guard’s brilliance.
But that’s utter nonsense.
When Westbrook is just playing with speed and without thinking, his shot selection is destructive more than it is helpful. He showed how his energy can be properly utilized in this one, however, and if the Thunder can somehow get these types of performances out of him consistently — not in terms of the raw numbers, but in terms of the defensive effort and the efficiency — they will be very difficult to stop.
San Antonio trailed by as many as 27 points in the third quarter, before the bench was emptied and the reserves were left to clean up the mess. The likes of Boris Diaw, Corey Joseph and Matt Bonner made enough of a run to force the Thunder to play their starters to close things out, but the Spurs were never close enough to warrant putting the starters back in.
That might bode well for Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili heading into Game 5, but the rest will only help so much. San Antonio needs to figure out a way to slow the Thunder down enough to turn around a 21-0 deficit in fast break points that the team faced in this one, while reverting back to the style of play that enabled the Spurs to get out to the 2-0 lead in the series that has now completely vanished.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:55 AM EST
Goran Dragic would have sat out with back pain against anyone else, but he dropped 21 on the Suns.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:14 AM EST
Zach LaVine can get up. But you already knew that.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:01 AM EST
The Warriors fell to 46-12.
Mar 2, 2015, 11:15 PM EST
Griffin has missed the Clippers’ last 10 games.
Mar 2, 2015, 10:30 PM EST
Whiteside grabbed Len by the legs.
Mar 2, 2015, 9:45 PM EST
Hamilton had no chance.
Mar 2, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
Yes, you read that right.
Mar 2, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
Teletovic is also out for the season.
Mar 2, 2015, 7:30 PM EST
We’ll see about that.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:44 PM EST
He will sit out Tuesday vs. Atlanta.
Mar 2, 2015, 6:15 PM EST
Nine total shoes, three colorways each.
Mar 2, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
Has his extra run and touches since Josh Smith was released changing the dynamic in Detroit?
Mar 2, 2015, 4:30 PM EST
Nobody is talking about Dwight Howard as long as the Rockets are winning.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
The Knicks got some wins and move out of the cellar.
Mar 2, 2015, 3:08 PM EST
Wizards forward has twice been suspended following altercations with Chicago
Mar 2, 2015, 2:28 PM EST
Lakers guard says he can take a joke – just not this one
Mar 2, 2015, 1:45 PM EST
Bulls facing big challenge without their best player
Doc Rivers on DeAndre Jordan for Defensive Player of the Year: ‘If anybody else gets that award, we need to have an investigation’
Mar 2, 2015, 1:18 PM EST
Clippers coach: ‘What he’s doing defensively, if he was doing that offensively, he would be recognized as the MVP’
Mar 2, 2015, 12:38 PM EST
I can’t wait
Mar 2, 2015, 11:59 AM EST
Sleeves notwithstanding, these are good
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: Goran Dragic got his revenge in concentrated form 0
- League suspends James Harden one game for kick to LeBron James’ groin 19
- PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: Hawks seem to be out of malaise. Maybe. 8
- Report: Jimmy Butler could miss three to four weeks with elbow injury 5
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: James Harden, LeBron James want your MVP vote 11
- Report: Sixers agree to buyout with JaVale McGee; he can sign with contender 36
- Bulls’ Jimmy Butler leaves with elbow injury, does not return (VIDEO) 0
- Adam Silver says data may prove Gregg Popovich right in terms of resting multiple players 18