May 28, 2014, 12:21 AM EDT
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.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:04 AM EDT
Lance letting us know where his loyalties lie.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
The 2015 Slam Dunk Contest champion might have already been decided.
Jul 27, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
At least he has an injury.
Jul 27, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
We’ve known this for a while now.
Jul 27, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Millsap gets the call as a late addition after Blake Griffin and Kevin Love dropped out in the last few days.
Jul 27, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
KG is likely coming back for his 20th NBA season, but may be setting himself up for something more with the Nets one his playing days are finished.
Jul 27, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
LeBron makes yet another momentous decision.
Jul 27, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
L.A. will keep Nash on the roster for the upcoming season, and take the cap hit for the $9.7 million remaining on his contract all at once.
Jul 27, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT
Only other possibility would have been LeBron facing the Heat, but that feels more like Christmas.
Jul 27, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
Team downplays ESPN report that a contract has been agreed upon.
Jul 27, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT
Would Harden have been offended if he and Parsons made similar money?
Jul 27, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Kobe looks like Kobe, even all those years ago.
Jul 27, 2014, 12:30 AM EDT
Wade can play a little football.
Jul 26, 2014, 11:37 PM EDT
The negotiations was over years and the fourth year is a team option.
Jul 26, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT
Beasley is an unrestricted free agent, and some team will almost certainly take a chance on him next season.
Jul 26, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Bledsoe is absolutely right.
Jul 26, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
If Kevin Love will not opt-in to the last year of his deal, would you still give up Wiggins for him?
Jul 26, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Nobody scores on Joakim Noah, 7-year-old youth included.
Jul 26, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Being inserted into the starting lineup might have something to do with it.
Jul 26, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Kevin Durant is the perfect international power forward anyway.
- Report: ‘No chance’ Kevin Love stays with Timberwolves 43
- LeBron announces he’ll wear No. 23 with Cavaliers 55
- Report: Lakers say ‘no done deal’ with Byron Scott 17
- Report: Lakers, Byron Scott agree to four-year, $17 million deal to coach team 15
- Kevin Love trade talk: He doesn’t want to opt in to deal, Cavs may live with that 40
- Kevin Love leaving Team USA not helpful, certainly not devastating either 19
- Why are the Lakers hiring Byron Scott as head coach? 46
- Report: NBA considering week-long break for All-Star Game next year 10