Round 1 was a Chris Paul knockout, making eight of his nine threes in a Clipper blowout win.
Round 2 was a similarly lopsided TKO, going to Russell Westbrook, who dissected L.A. in a double-digit Thunder victory last Wednesday night.
But Round 3 of the most entertaining point guard battle in the NBA was a lot more closely contested. And because of that, so was the game.
But on Friday night in Los Angeles, it was Westbrook and the Thunder who made more plays down the stretch, leading to a vital 118-112 Game 3 win to steal homecourt back from the Clippers.
Kevin Durant continued his MVP play, scoring 36 points and nailing a lethal late-game fadeaway to help seal it. Serge Ibaka played his best offensive game of the playoffs – scoring 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting.
But it was Westbrook, again, who masterfully captained the ship.
He finished with 23 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds, coming up just short of what would have been his fourth triple-double of the playoffs and second in a row, something that hasn’t been done since Jason Kidd in 2002.
But more than the numbers, it was the calm aggression he played with and the smart decisions he continues to make. He had only two turnovers and made seven of his 14 shots, with only three of those 3-pointers.
Dating back to Game 6 against the Grizzlies, Westbrook looks like a different player, dynamic as ever but under control at all times.
And that was particularly true in the game’s biggest moments on Friday night.
With the Thunder clinging to a 106-103 lead with three minutes left, Westbrook whirled in for an important layup. A minute later, after two big Clippers shots had cut OKC’s lead back to one, Westbrook rose for an in-rhythm three. He knocked it in, continuing his smart and potent long-range shooting in this series (6-of-12 overall in the three games) and capped it off with his patented 3-point holsters.
It put the Thunder up four. L.A. would never get any closer.
But just to seal the deal, Westbrook flashed his other skills. A possession after the clutch three, he drilled Durant with an assist for a backbreaking jumper.
Then, after J. J. Redick missed a layup on the other end, Westbrook flew in for his eighth rebound of the night and 22nd in the series. From start to finish, he controlled the game.
Chris Paul was great, finishing with 21 points and 16 assists. But in a battle that could decide the public’s opinion on the best point guard in the world, Westbrook got the upper hand.
And because of that, the Thunder has control of this series.