All it took was for Scott Brooks to get a technical foul, and we suddenly saw the Russell Westbrook the Oklahoma City Thunder need to win the NBA title. A responsible point guard who leads his team by scoring and passing, doing his best to make the team look better, including his co-star Kevin Durant, instead of trying to prove to everyone just how big of a star he is at the moment.
Russell really changed the game with that two-to-three minute stretch, defensively and offensively, in the third quarter. The game was still anybody’s game and that gave us enough of a lead. We took it into the fourth quarter and then we did a great job of finishing the game by making shots and defending. We didn’t give them any easy looks in the fourth quarter.
Last season the Thunder kept getting pampered for their fourth quarter defense. That lockdown look showed up once again, allowing the Portland Trail Blazers, who were maybe eliminated from playoff contention with this 103-83 loss, at only 36 points in the second half, including 15 in the final quarter. Serge Ibaka swatted anything coming his way (5 blocks) while Kendrick Perkins did an excellent job in closing the lane, allowing the Blazers only 30 points in the paint.
Westbrook always amazes when he looks like the one playing the responsible part. It’s not that he slows down and thinks about what he does, but it’s when his instincts suddenly tell him, on every possession, to do the right thing. When to use his athleticism as the way to score easy points against guards that can’t keep up with him, when to actually look for open teammates, and when to give up on those annoying mid range shots he loves to take, making them at an oh-so-low percentage. He scored 21 points, adding 9 assists (9-18 from the field) while Durant had 24 points, adding 10 rebounds to the stat sheet.
The defense really picked up as the game went along. Going into this game you knew that they had five guys that score almost 14 points or above so everybody had to do their job and guard tonight. I thought our defense was really good in the second half.
This means the Thunder are now 1.5 games behind the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have 12 games left to play, OKC have 11. At the moment, it looks like the number one seed will have to play the Los Angeles Lakers of all teams in the first round. While the Rockets are a dangerous team to run with, I’m not sure which teams the Thunder prefer to face, having lost to both recently, both posing some sort of matchup problem to them in a way.
The Thunder are more talented than anyone in the West because of Durant and Westbrook, of Kevin Martin and the constantly improving Serge Ibaka. They still don’t seem to have the thing(s) that kept them from winning the NBA title last June all worked out. Maybe they won’t get it, and continue to rely on individual talent and scoring to pull them through their inferiority when it comes to coaching and actual team-oriented basketball. With Durant and Westbrook getting better by the minute as offensive weapons while the hope their defensive focus holds up, who’s to say the Thunder aren’t ready to make it happen this year?