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OKC Thunder: Russell Westbrook's pivotal effort lost in Serge Ibaka's heroics

by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 26, 2014

Serge Ibaka is garnering all the attention as the star of Game 3 against San Antonio, and rightfully so.

What he did playing through a calf injury was legendary, a moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

But the truth is Ibaka’s valiant and inspiring return isn’t the only thing that turned around the Thunder’s defense and saved Oklahoma City’s season.

Russell Westbrook’s effort was every bit as pivotal.

Westbrook supplied one of his best defensive performances of the season in the Thunder’s nine-point win. He pestered Spurs guard Tony Parker from start to finish and stood as a primary factor in OKC’s ability to finally slow down a Spurs offense that had toyed with the Thunder in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals.

Parker scored just nine points on 4-for-13 shooting. He had four assists against four turnovers in 28 minutes.

He also had a shoulder full of blame for his team squandering the momentum it had built in the first two games of this series.

“I take a lot of responsibility,” Parker said Monday. “That’s my job on this team, to get everything going. That’s why I took it hard (Sunday) night, because I felt like I didn’t play well.

“I have to play better and I know it. I’ll try to bounce back.”

After shooting 53.8 percent in the first two games of the series, San Antonio was held to 39.6 percent shooting in Game 3. It’s no coincidence that the Spurs struggles’ coincided with Parker’s. In the first two games, Parker was in complete control. He scored 14 points, making 6 of 12 shots, with 12 assists in Game 1. The Thunder then switched defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha onto Parker at the start of Game 2. Parker still scored 22 points on 10-for-17 shooting while adding five assists in only 28 minutes.

When the Thunder went back to Westbrook on Sunday, he was ready.

“Russ did a great job setting the tone,” said Thunder guard Reggie Jackson. “I think he decided that he was going to lock in on defense for us and push the pace, push the tempo, and I think that’s what we did the majority of the night.”

By coming out focused defensively, Westbrook alleviated any potential defensive drop off that might have come when Jackson started in place of Sefolosha. Gone were Parker’s open looks off of ball screens, his unabated drives to the basket and his trouble-free passes to teammates.

“I mean, that’s their team,” Westbrook said of Parker. “If you control him you can kind of control the rest of everything that goes on. They obviously have good ball movement. But he’s in control. You try to control him. He’s definitely going to stay aggressive and try to score. But you can make his shots be tough.”

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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