From Humiliation to jubilation, close to vindication. Russell Westbrook took everything gone wrong for him in the first two games and came up with a rejuvenating display in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s impressive 102-82 win over the San Antonio Spurs, that felt more than just one win, pulling them back into the series, 1-2.
Because after 20 straight wins and playing so well for the most part of the first two games in the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs looked human, vulnerable, tired, weak, old. All those words players hate to hear about themselves. All the things Gregg Popovich has hated hearing about his team every time they made an early playoff exit over the last five years.
Adjustments is the name of the game, so before we delve into the simplistic and obvious, lets talk about what Brooks did to help his team – Simply fixing the defense that ran around like headless chickens chasing the slicing and dicing Tony Parker in the first two games. He put Tabo Sefolosha most of the time on whoever was running the floor for the Spurs. He got 4 steals in the first three minutes of the game, six in total. His scoring record in a postseason game was a different kind of bonus.
Westbrook, unlike the first two games, didn’t have to go through a mixer of screens. The Spurs looked a bit off their usual, flowing passing game. Fatigue and a mentally down night was also part of the cause. But it had a lot to do with fixing the way the Thunder dealt with the screens. Kendrick Perkins most of the time and simply making the right kind of switches to throw the Spurs off their usual game. They forced 21 turnovers – five off of Parker, four off of Ginobili.
On offense, half court offense, Westbrook is still playing his usual, stubborn, often dumb kind of basketball. Maybe it’s an ego thing, of trying to prove something. Maybe it’s too much of believing in himself and his superior athletic abilities. Westbrook kept running into walls and outstretched arms, finishing with 5-15 from the field.
But once the game started running, Westbrook was at his finest, making excellent passes and decision, finishing with 10 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. The Thunder did OK with their big three scoring ‘only’ 47 points because they got a huge contribution from unexpected sources.
These unexpected sources is what three of the Spurs’ defense as well. Serge Ibaka was suddenly hitting mid range jumpers, forcing Tim Duncan to step outside. That offset the whole defensive philosophy and strategy of the Spurs. It seemed every time Popovich called for a timeout to try and fix things with a little dose of nasty, things got worse. It ended with a long garbage time fourth quarter, with the Spurs’ rejects dropping the lead to 20 points. Using all 13 players for at least 10 minutes.
It came down to energy. The Spurs didn’t have it, the Thunder were engulfed in it. NBA games, playoff of regular season, are often decided by that simple factor. Who comes out with the most energy; who plays like it’s a must-win game. For the Oklahoma City Thunder, it actually was, knowing that no one has ever comeback from 0-3 in the NBA playoffs.
Russell Westbrook didn’t have a great game, but he did show he has heart, and can bounce back from awful nights on both ends of the floor. That’s just as important as scoring 30 points. Maybe even more.