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.
May 28, 2015, 2:55 AM EDT
This is where the week off until the Finals tip off benefits the Warriors.
May 28, 2015, 1:49 AM EDT
Houston won 56 games, secured No. 2 seed in powerful Western Conference and won more playoff series than its previous 17 years combined
May 28, 2015, 12:39 AM EDT
The Warriors don’t care how it looked, they will take it.
Dwight Howard elbows Andre Iguodala but avoids flagrant foul and suspension – for now, at least (video)
May 27, 2015, 11:50 PM EDT
Rockets center elbowed Andre Iguodala high
May 27, 2015, 11:36 PM EDT
That sounds bad. Is that bad?
May 27, 2015, 11:15 PM EDT
“Hey!” -Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, probably
May 27, 2015, 10:21 PM EDT
Will it stand?
May 27, 2015, 9:51 PM EDT
Who will it be (if anyone)?
May 27, 2015, 8:59 PM EDT
First Kobe, now Melo – Dudley goes scorched earth
May 27, 2015, 8:12 PM EDT
The Cavaliers are allowing 98.5 points per 100 possession in the playoffs, the best of the four teams to reach the conference Finals
May 27, 2015, 7:20 PM EDT
Will he become Anthony Davis’ next head coach?
Stephen Curry feels like there’s a bruise ‘all the way up and down’ his body, will likely wear arm sleeve in Game 5
May 27, 2015, 6:28 PM EDT
Warriors guard says he shot well with sleeve in shootaround
May 27, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
If they want him gone, they just have to pull the trigger on the firing. Otherwise, bring him back.
May 27, 2015, 4:47 PM EDT
The Hawks had an exciting season, they filled an arena that in past years felt like a mausoleum, they played beautiful basketball for months at a time.
May 27, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT
May 27, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT
Free agents will still come to the Lakers, but their pool may be smaller than some other teams because of Kobe.
May 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT
There were plenty of rumors to the contrary.
May 27, 2015, 1:50 PM EDT
Suns don’t need any more young players.
May 27, 2015, 1:10 PM EDT
Plenty has changed since LeBron re-joined the Cavaliers last summer.
May 27, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
Hawks, too, have some decisions to make this summer.
- Rockets had an excellent season. Are they content with that? 2
- Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years 12
- Dwight Howard hit with suspension-triggering technical foul 6
- PBT Extra: Cavaliers’ improved defense helps them to Finals 7
- Reports: Bulls getting closer to firing Tom Thibodeau 23
- PBT Extra: Despite ending, Hawks had season worth celebrating 3
- Bucks’ Jared Dudley: “Most guys don’t want to play with Kobe” 63
- PBT Extra: Expect a healthy Stephen Curry for Game 5… sorry Houston 4