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.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
He won’t replace Wesley Matthews, but he’s another body.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:45 PM EDT
A much-needed win for the Raptors.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Gobert wouldn’t let it stand and blocked him right after.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT
It was a frightening display of strength.
Mar 30, 2015, 9:30 PM EDT
A reminder of the Crash of old.
Mar 30, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Capela is making a name for himself.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:56 PM EDT
Rose underwent knee surgery in February.
Mar 30, 2015, 7:18 PM EDT
This is the opposite of a surprise.
Mar 30, 2015, 6:14 PM EDT
There were rumors he wanted the Sacramento GM job, but George Karl has the power there now.
Mar 30, 2015, 5:38 PM EDT
Also, is Willie Caulie-Stein a great fit next to DeMarcus Cousins?
Mar 30, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Cavaliers center is a star
Mar 30, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
UNLV freshman likely headed for second round
Mar 30, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
The top three are Golden State, Cleveland and San Antonio. Would you be shocked if any of them won the title?
StubHub sues Warriors, accuses Golden State of preventing StubHub-using fans from buying playoff tickets
Mar 30, 2015, 2:38 PM EDT
StubHub says Warriors permit resale through only Ticketmaster
Mar 30, 2015, 1:59 PM EDT
Rockets point guard to have surgery on wrist
Mar 30, 2015, 1:27 PM EDT
Phil Jackson disciple Craig Hodges now coaching Westchester Knicks
Mar 30, 2015, 12:49 PM EDT
Jordan made preseason debut at Washington High School, but at one point, it seemed Washington High alum Junior Bridgeman would be the big draw
Mar 30, 2015, 12:11 PM EDT
D.J. Augustin throws the alley-oop, and two Thunder players go for it. Westbrook won.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:33 AM EDT
Good decision to go pro, poor decision to end video how he did
Mar 30, 2015, 10:58 AM EDT
Nothing raises a team’s spirits like playing New York
- Derrick Rose returns to full-contact practice, Bulls return date still unknown 2
- Report: Sacramento consultant Chris Mullin to take St. John’s head coaching job 2
- PBT Extra: Taking twitter questions on Clippers, Michael Carter-Williams, more 2
- PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Cream rising to top as playoffs near 27
- Report: Patrick Beverley out for rest of season, including playoffs 7
- Breaking down Western Conference playoff chase with two weeks left in season 9
- Breaking down Eastern Conference playoff chase with two weeks left in season 8
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Dwyane Wade is going to will Heat into playoffs 15