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.
Jan 26, 2015, 11:15 PM EST
The Pelicans blew out the Sixers.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:30 PM EST
Jan 26, 2015, 9:45 PM EST
The Nets have lost eight of their last 10.
Jan 26, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
They will wear them on February 20.
Jan 26, 2015, 8:11 PM EST
Durant suffered the injury on Sunday in Cleveland.
Jan 26, 2015, 7:30 PM EST
Will Steve Kerr start Klay Thompson or James Harden?
Jan 26, 2015, 6:43 PM EST
Did you really think Kobe Bryant was going to leave the game on anything but his own terms?
Jan 26, 2015, 6:20 PM EST
He likely returns in the middle of March.
Jan 26, 2015, 5:32 PM EST
Of course, Nick Young’s answer to all problems is more Nick Young.
Jan 26, 2015, 4:29 PM EST
And Russell Westbrook at center
Jan 26, 2015, 3:37 PM EST
He should be back for the start of next season.
Report: Kemba Walker could miss six weeks, Hornets teammates Marvin Williams and Bismack Biyombo also injured
Jan 26, 2015, 3:22 PM EST
Charlotte’s playoff odds just got much longer
Jan 26, 2015, 2:38 PM EST
It’s Hawks and Warriors and everyone else. Just as its been for a while now.
Jan 26, 2015, 2:04 PM EST
After Washington pushed out Jordan, Kobe re-signed with Lakers
Jan 26, 2015, 1:28 PM EST
Portland must return to East Coast for single game
Jan 26, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
Lakers coach asked Young about his defense. ‘The answer he gave me, I couldn’t figure it out.’
Jan 26, 2015, 11:44 AM EST
Gasols, Pau of the Bulls and Marc of the Grizzlies, become first brothers to start an NBA All-Star game
Jan 26, 2015, 11:09 AM EST
With the storm bearing down on the Northeast, this is the right move by the league.
Jan 26, 2015, 10:20 AM EST
Jan 26, 2015, 9:46 AM EST
Wall splits two Nuggets defenders with expertly placed pass
- PBT Extra: Who should be the All-Star Game reserves? 7
- Report: Kobe Bryant “definitively coming back to play next season” 23
- Kemba Walker to have knee surgery; Hornets looking at trades for depth while he is out 4
- Kobe Bryant to have surgery on shoulder, is done for season 7
- PBT’s Weekly NBA Power Rankings: Hawks continue to fly high 4
- Kobe Bryant wanted to sign with Michael Jordan’s Wizards 5
- Pau Gasol’s trade tip put his and Marc Gasol’s All-Star futures in motion 3
- Reports: Kings at Knicks, Trail Blazers at Nets games Monday postponed due to coming storm 11