If Ibaka deserves credit for protecting the paint, Westbrook warrants praise for being responsible for ensuring that the Spurs had fewer opportunities to cross that threshold. His focus on the ball, in the pick and roll, on the weak side and in transition significantly reduced the Spurs’ shot opportunities from the painted area.
“He did a great job of just engaging and keeping his body on Tony or whoever was the ball-handler and doing a great job of getting over the screens,” said Thunder forward Caron Butler. “His second effort was great all throughout the night.”
The Spurs mustered only three fast break points after scoring 16 in Game 1 and 11 in Game 2.
“It’s something that we have to be good every game with against this team because it’s such a quick team up the court,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “After a make, after a miss, it doesn’t matter. They’re pushing the ball. They’re making that first pass quickly into their early offense. And so I thought Russell was good in picking up his man early and locking in. But he has the ability to do that, and does that and he did it at a high level (Sunday) night.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Westbrook’s night was he never let his off night on offense negatively affect his defensive disposition. Westbrook started the game missing seven of his first eight shots and was just 3-for-10 from the field at halftime.
“Defense kind of kept my energy up,” Westbrook said. “I was locked in and locking in on whoever I was guarding at the time and trying to find a way to still help us stay in the game and win.”
For the Thunder to knot this series at two games apiece, it’ll need Westbrook to provide a repeat performance — especially with Parker determined to once again be the driving force for San Antonio.
“He’s the point guard so it definitely sets the tone,” said Kevin Durant. “But you’ve got to understand what he’s doing on both ends of the floor, the minutes he’s playing and how tough that is as one of the main guys to pressure the ball so high up all the time and also control the offense and be the aggressor. Most other point guards, they’re hiding on a weaker defender. But Russell takes the challenge and guards the best...It’s physically hard to do but he does it.”