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.
Sep 18, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Spurs coach seeking sources of motivation so his team won’t repeat the letdown
Sep 18, 2014, 12:18 PM EDT
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski defends himself after Adrian Wojnarowski paints him as opportunistic recruiter
Sep 18, 2014, 11:39 AM EDT
How much longer will NBA keep pushing them?
Sep 18, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
After signing Glenn Robinson III, Minnesota has too many guaranteed contracts
Sep 18, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Sep 18, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
Last season, Celtics traded Crawford to Warriors, who were unsatisfied with his play
Sep 18, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Bulls center didn’t fare quite as well at White Sox game
Sep 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
“Everybody who knows Danny knows that he’s a good person.” —Steve Kerr on Danny Ferry
Sep 18, 2014, 12:15 AM EDT
No Robert Horry, no Igor Kokoskov
Sep 17, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Milwaukee will likely waive former Temple center before season
Sep 17, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
Clippers rushed to upgrade from Hollins as backup center, the role Hollins will likely hold in Sacramento
Sep 17, 2014, 9:25 PM EDT
Sanchez played for St. John’s, Dominican Republic national team
Sep 17, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Miami also hires Chris Quinn promotes David Fizdale
Sep 17, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Asik and Davis could be one of the NBA’s best defensive front lines.
Sep 17, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Brooklyn needs someone behind Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee
Sep 17, 2014, 5:55 PM EDT
This is a killer addition.
Sep 17, 2014, 4:59 PM EDT
Sep 17, 2014, 4:12 PM EDT
Five games is the standard marijuana suspension, and you have to test positive three separate times to earn it.
Sep 17, 2014, 3:26 PM EDT
Jennings only shot 52 percent around the rim last year, maybe the muscle helps. Maybe.
Sep 17, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Chris Bosh is taller than Ellen DeGeneres, which leads to much humor. I guess.
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