Westbrook’s fire evens up West finals

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: Russell Westbrook’s Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – However inconvenient for the tear-’em-down crowd, this truth is indisputable: Russell Westbrook is the most predictable element of this absurdly entertaining Thunder playoff drive that somehow stands two wins from rocketing back into the NBA Finals.

The return of Serge Ibaka clearly has been a pile-driver to the heads of the San Antonio Spurs, an invincible force four days ago flattened into wide-eyed, red-faced mush. Ibaka delivered the spark in Game 3, but the heart of this inferno remains Oklahoma City’s super-powered point guard. It can, and should be, debated that no player outside the one-man LeBron James class, attacks with more relentless raw power and ferocity than the 6-foot-3, 200-pound blend of Superman’s physique and the The Flash’s bursts of blurred speed.

Westbrook dominated Tuesday’s 105-92 Game 4 mauling with an offensive masterpiece of 40 points on 50-percent shooting (12-for-24) and 10 assists. He dictated terms defensively against Tony Parker with five steals, all off aggressive, hounding coverage, four in the TKO first half, and one soaring swat of Patty Mills‘ catch-and-shoot 3-point attempt in the corner as a delirious first quarter came to a close.

“Coach told us he needed maximum effort from us and it starts with me at the point-guard position,” Westbrook said. “My job is to play both sides of the ball.”

Westbrook practically posed for pictures after the block, glaring into the crowd, his chest puffed four rows deep where the ball finally landed.

“It’s just fun to watch,” said Thunder partner Kevin Durant. The league’s MVP has been admittedly uneven throughout the playoffs, but had a big say in evening the series with 31 points — 21 in the first half on 9-for-12 shooting — five assists, five rebounds, three steals and a block of his own, just one of eight accumulated by the Thunder’s defense.

“You know how much he wants to win,” Durant continued, “and [to] just to lay it all out there and play extremely hard every possession, I think that’s more fun than seeing him score 40 points.”

Fun wasn’t in the Thunder’s vocabulary after twice getting crushed in San Antonio. No other word could better describe the time the Thunder had in Game 4. Westbrook’s energy from the jump spread like electric current through his teammates. They agitated the Spurs defensively with their speed and length and hit 48.7 percent of their shots at the other end. For a second consecutive game they attempted more than 30 free throws. Westbrook, incapable of being kept out of the lane, went 14-for-14.

This was the Thunder at their most devastating, a completeness that had yet to be demonstrated. Ibaka added three more blocks. Kendrick Perkins ripped down 10 rebounds with a pair of blocks in 22 minutes. Jeremy Lamb came off the bench in the first quarter unexpectedly after Reggie Jackson sprained his right ankle, and immediately swiped a couple steals.

A quick 12-4 San Antonio lead flipped in a hurry. OKC led 26-20 after one and 58-43 at the half, and just like that it’s 2012 all over again and the Thunder burrowing into the heads of the unflappable Spurs.

The Thunder’s defense threw a wrench in Popovich’s poetry-in-motion passing offense and shut it down. The payoff was a 21-0 edge in fastbreak points and a 44-36 edge in points in the paint. For anyone still keeping track, that’s 76 points in the paint for San Antonio in Games 3 and 4. They had 120 in Games 1 and 2.

“You’ve got to play smarter against such great athletes,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They’re talented, obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin for error, and you’d better be smart the way you play, and you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.”

Such events precipitated an all-out surrender even earlier than the Thunder’s Game 2 white towel fluttered to the hardwood late in the third quarter. With 6:46 to go and the Thunder up 69-49, Popovich benched Parker, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter. Fifty seconds later it was 74-69 and a frustrated Tim Duncan sat down. Only Green, for 49 seconds of the fourth quarter, ever returned.

If the Spurs are now going to reclaim momentum in a series in which none of the four games have been won by fewer than nine points (and the Thunder’s Game 3 lead was 20 before a late charge by Spurs subs), they will have to figure out a way to slow down the inexhaustible Westbrook.

He has turned aside Mike Conley, posting two of his playoff-high three triple-doubles in the first round, ousted Chris Paul and now has Parker wondering what he can possibly do. In the last two games, with Ibaka providing security for Westbrook’s calculated gambles, Parker has 23 points, eight assists and seven turnovers.

Westbrook’s playoff totals are mesmerizing: 26.6 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.5 rpg.

He played 45 minutes, 29 seconds Tuesday because of Jackson’s injury, but he left little doubt that with Game 5 approaching quickly on Thursday, he’ll be refreshed to do it all over again.

“Pfft,” was the sound that came from Westbrook’s lips when asked if he’s concerned about fatigue. “Nah. We’re young, were going to recover, take care of our body and be ready to play.”

24 Comments

  1. let's be honest says:

    soooo…is no one gonna point out the obvious?

    -how is a grade 2 calf sprain (that they thought was a 4-6 week recovery) ok to play on a week later?
    -how does jackson turn his ankle that badly and come back to the game?
    -how is westbrook able to play 46 minutes, especially at the level of intensity he plays?? (kd’s 41 minutes is a little more understandable, because he doesn’t exert nearly as much energy)

    either this is terrible coaching by risking your players health, or something fishy is going on in that locker room. (how many years later did they catch lance armstrong…?)

    • okckd35 says:

      Wow if the spurs lose the other team is doping? Ur a loser

      • let's be honest says:

        Sir, considering your name, your lack of grammar, and your completely biased and ignorant posts…your insults don’t mean much. I’ve never confessed to being a spurs fan, I’m a fan of basketball played properly and honestly.

        ONE player playing 46 minutes while other talent sits on the bench (still making millions) seems like robbery and a mockery of the sport. The thunder have another 7-footer that they never play, but rather they risk the health of ibaka? That’s bad player development and coaching if you ask me.

        This sort of thing is fueling the selfish, one-man band, “I’m allowed to demand more money because I’m THAT good”, mentality that is destroying this sport.

  2. okc2014 says:

    “WESTBRICK?” Um, he is the top 5 guard on the nba!

  3. Mleh says:

    Spurs robbed again by the refs

  4. Jaques says:

    A 20 point turnaround in 50 seconds, this is one crazy series

  5. quitcrying says:

    Quit crying about fouls. The losing team’s fans always do. If you look at game one and two, pretty sure it was advantage Spurs.
    Normally the more aggressive team gets the benefit of more foul calls. Watch a few more years and maybe you’ll understand.

    • Brainundrum says:

      most ignorant post of the day

    • Gosheven says:

      Actually, the only game in this series where the Spurs took more free throws than the Thunder was Game 2. The Spurs took 13 more free throws in that game. The thunder took more free throws in Games 1, 3, and 4. In Game 3 alone, OKC had took 19 free throws in the 3rd quarter to San Antonio’s 0. Yes, you read that properly, 19-0! With roughly 3-4 minutes left in the game (4th quarter), the disparity was 31-7. So for about 44-46 minutes, OKC had taken 31 free throws and the Spurs had taken 7. The refs gave the bench unit some “gimme” touch fouls in the final few minutes to make it look “better” (31-16), but there is no mistaking it.

      In a game where Westbrook and Durant really weren’t shooting well, they got the help they needed at the free throw line. This series should be 3-1 in favor of San Antonio right now. There was quite a discrepancy in the free throw shooting last night as well, (I believe it was something like 34-18 at one point), but I can’t give last night’s game to the refs. San Antonio played heartless last night. They were broken before the 1st quarter even ended. I was sending texts and emails to friends that they were done in the first quarter and even my non-Spurs fan friends were saying not to count them out. My response was that I know my team too well, I’ve seen them through too many battles and I can tell when they’ve tucked their tails between their legs and thrown up the white flag. They did that in the first quarter last night. The only saving grace/silver lining was that 3rd string unit led by Boris Diaw and Cory Joseph. They played with heart and gusto and they did by sticking to the San Antonio system.

      I don’t understand why Pop waited so long to insert Aron Baynes. His energy and physicality definitely had a noticeable effect on OKC’s frontline last night. Something to consider for Game 5. He also should have played Ginobili. He was getting off to a rough start, but he was the only one on the floor playing without fear.

      Oh well, Game 5 is going to be a decidedly different game. I am fully confident that San Antonio will hold down home court and win Game 5 decisively… so long as they account for interference from the refs.

      This series will be over in Game 6.

      Spurs v. Heat in the NBA Finals.

      • okckd35 says:

        Boo hoo. Game 2 the thunder took 10 ft the entire game. 7 were in the 1st quarter. Then 2 at the beginning of the 2nd. Then 1 ft with 2 minutes left. The refs have not favored any particular team. U cry about game 3 but OKC was called for more fouls than san Antonio. The problem was they got tired and kept fouling with okc in the bonus. U act like they would not have scored on any of those possessions that they were awarded ft’s.

      • kd's abeast says:

        U do realize that when pop took ojt his starters okc stopped caring right. Even brooks said they relaxed they had a 27 point lead and one more quarter they stopped jumping for rebounds and watched as ppl waled in the paint and didnt stop them okc players didnt see need to play with all their energy wen they were up by so much so they let the spurs back in the game last night. They didnt wamt to make it seem like they blew the spurs out the water which they did. Okc might be killers but not coldblooded ones lol

  6. Vinnie says:

    I’d quite like to see see Diaw starting and move Timmy to centre so he can focus on the paint are (offense and defence). U have to have sb in the paint area to guard Westbrook

  7. MR210 says:

    There were a lot of questionable calls – seemed like West-Brick drove to the paint and got a whistle.
    Spurs drive to basket – and no call.

    It is what it is – Spurs can’t complain for lack of calls or bogus calls against them…

    So far, Spurs did what they had to do and protect their home court – OKC did the same.
    I still say Spurs in 6. I take Spurs to be first team to win a road game this series.

    If Spurs come in the next three games with the same fire and emotion as West-brick and his team came with, Spurs will win.
    Once Spurs mentally checkout – it’s over for them. They clearly gave up in the third quarter.

    Game 5 will show why they worked hard all season long to get home-court advantage. Let’s see if OKC can continue their momentum…and remember – West-brick and Durant played 40+ minutes each! Not sure what Scott Brooks is thinking keeping his Big Guns out there…
    Spurs starters should be well rested for Thursday and play focused, Spurs Basketball once they hear the home crowd.

    GO SPURS GO – DRIVE FOR FIVE!

  8. saeed says:

    Durant has clearly proven, through this series and last year’s elimination, that how dependent upon his co-dominants he is. Just WONDERING how LeBron got to the finals in 2007 at the age of 22 with players like Shannon Brown, Daniel Gibson, Drew Gooden, Larry hughes, Zudrunas Ilgauskas, and Damen Jones. Took the dominant dominant Champions Boston Celtics (who eventually dominated Lakers in the Finals) to a game 7 with guys like wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, Zyd Ilgauskas, and Ben Wallace and get 66 and 61 regular season wins with no better teammates. LeBron is not better than Jordan now (will have this later in his career) but LeBron’s OFF career has dominated Jordan’s (or anyone’s) OFF career (off career the pre-championship career)

    • kd's abeast says:

      Umm no ur wrong I dont kno if you realize but kd hasnt been aggressive he has just been waiting for the ball to get to him, and also brooks is taking him out more and letting him rest and thats because the entire team needs him for the finals and he needs rest if hes gonna come out like he did in december and january. Kd keeps telling everyone that there is another level they can go to but no one is listening.

  9. Alvin from Philippines says:

    Fifty seconds later it was 74-69 and and a frustrated Tim Duncan sat down. Only Green, for 49 seconds of the fourth quarter, ever returned. -it was 74-49 sir, the Spurs did not come with in 5 points.

  10. LoveThisGame says:

    It was hilarious to see how many foul calls could Westbrook and Durant get in order to win a game LOL And dun tell me that the no. of foul calls are even for both teams, coz the thunders received the favourable calls at the critical points of time in game 3 and game 4. But at the end of the day, you can still say the thunders deserve the W coz no one would know what would happen if the games were conducted in a fairer manner, in terms of officiating.

  11. jake s. says:

    I can’t get enough of this series. The Western conference has been so exciting to watch this year.