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 25, 2014, 12:01 AM EDT
Bonner is one of a few Spurs teammates taking the trophy on tour this summer.
Jul 24, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
Sixers continue their plan of seeking out delayed gratification.
Agency that reps Ray Allen says reports he intends to play for Cavaliers are ‘unfounded,’ no decision has been made
Jul 24, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT
Despite reports that Allen was on the verge of signing with Cleveland, nothing has been decided just yet.
Jul 24, 2014, 8:44 PM EDT
Blake Griffin joins Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as players who are passing on Team USA this summer.
Jul 24, 2014, 7:18 PM EDT
Team USA is bringing Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Derrick Rose and John Wall to camp. And that’s just at the point guard spot.
Jul 24, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
The NBPA is up to something here
It’s official: Jameer Nelson signs with Mavericks, says: “I’m just preparing myself to make open shots.”
Jul 24, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Another solid signing for a Mavs team that has had a good offseason.
Jul 24, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT
It’s the largest single-year contract in NBA history.
Jul 24, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
It’s another 30 days Minnesota can try to leverage a better deal out of Chicago, Golden State and anyone else who wants Kevin Love.
Jul 24, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
His new nickname could be PG-13.
Jul 24, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Houston obviously didn’t match, allowing Parsons to sign with Mavericks
Jul 24, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT
Lin wore No. 17 with Knicks
Jul 24, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
Just first season will be guaranteed
Jul 24, 2014, 1:04 PM EDT
Frank Caliendo makes it happen
Jul 24, 2014, 12:19 PM EDT
Do you think Jim Buss is going to give up his job, step aside for Rivers and put someone in over long-time trusted Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak? Really?
Jul 24, 2014, 11:24 AM EDT
Wizards deny Seraphin permission to participate
Jul 24, 2014, 10:33 AM EDT
Green, drafted No. 46 in 2013, spent a year overseas
Jul 24, 2014, 9:55 AM EDT
Huestis would have accepted arrangement only with Thunder or Spurs, but will the NBA or players union allow it?
Jul 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT
Sacramento’s search for a starting-caliber point guard let the one already there leave for Suns
- Players union approves of Thunder’s Josh Huestis arrangement 8
- Cavaliers officially sign Andrew Wiggins, putting 30-day hold on him being traded 43
- Lakers deny rumor they are waiting around for Doc Rivers to be coach 55
- James Harden: “Dwight and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players.” 86
- Mavericks signing Al-Farouq Aminu to two-year, minimum salary contract 12
- Report: Ballmer’s $2 billion Clippers offer nearly double what Bank of America valued team at 20
- Report: Jameer Nelson near $2.7 million deal to join Dallas Mavericks 17
- Report: Mavericks void Rashard Lewis’ contract after it’s discovered he needs knee surgery 13