One of the things always standing in the way of the Oklahoma City Thunder is Russell Westbrook, and to be more specific, his performances in the fourth quarter. However, in game 5 against the San Antonio Spurs, he may have buried that stigma for good.
Westbrook scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including two huge baskets by simply attacking the rim and letting bodies collide, scoring over the Spurs big men, as the Thunder won 95-91 on the road to take a 3-2 lead in their series with the Spurs. They’ve won three of the last four games in the series including two in a row, suddenly finding it pretty easy to slow down the Spurs, enjoying the fact that Kawhi Leonard suddenly isn’t doing too well with the game (and series on the line), LaMarcus Aldridge looking worse with every game that goes by, and the original big three are now anything but great.
Where to begin? Probably the deciding factor in this game: The final minutes. The Spurs took a 88-82 lead with four minutes remaining after a Leonard field goal. But then? Nothing. Their next basket didn’t come until 1:35 remaining in the game, when Tony Parker (nine points) tied the game at 90-90. Kevin Durant put the Thunder back in the lead with two from the line, and then Parker made just one of two in his turn. Durant turned the ball over on the next possession and Parker got an opportunity from a similar position, but missed again. Then Westbrook hit his shot, and it was over on that and-one.
Aldridge scored 20 points, but shot 6-for-21 from the field. The Duncan-Parker-Ginobili trio scored only 17 points combined. Danny Green had 20, Leonard finished with 23. But the Spurs have been unable to recreate the “magic” of game 1, with their ball movement slowing down and the shots they’ve been taking not as “clean” or good as before. David West and Boris Diaw combined to score just four points. All the places the Spurs thought they’d find advantages over the Thunder are failing.
Westbrook scored 32 points on 12-of-27 from the field, adding 11 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 turnovers. Almost a quadruple double, but not the right kind. It didn’t matter. Westbrook is incredible at putting up numbers and filling up box scores. But his ability to take over the game in the fourth has been something he’s struggled with. In game 4, Kevin Durant exploded as Westbrook moved aside and didn’t try to do too much in the end. This time he went back to his old ways, but kept his three point shooting at normal levels (3-for-7) while focusing on doing what he does better, using his athleticism to overpower players near the rim.
A series that before it began was destined to be all about the Spurs is going in the different direction: The individual one, with Durant, Westbrook and some good lineup choices by Billy Donovan (not that he has that much of a choice considering who is on the team), is winning. “Good” or “Bad” basketball? It doesn’t matter. This series has turned into something the Thunder can feel comfortable in, now one game away from going to the conference finals.