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Oklahoma City Thunder: Can Russell Westbrook get the best of Tony Parker and the Spurs?

Russell Westbrook can continue his march toward the undisputed title of best player at his position if he can help lead the shorthanded Thunder past the Spurs and into the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.
by Darnell Mayberry Published: May 18, 2014

In that six-game series, Westbrook averaged 27.8 points, six rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.8 steals. He shot 49.1 percent from the field, 34.6 percent from 3-point range and 87.7 percent from the foul line.

“Just trying to win, man,” Westbrook explained after the series. “I came out every night just trying to find a way to help us win games. My teammates gave me confidence to come out and be aggressive and play my game regardless of what was going on, and that’s all I tried to do.”

It’s the way Westbrook has played that has been so impressive.

He’s slowing down, playing smarter, scoring more efficiently and setting up teammates better. His defense, which has been spotty even in this postseason, has turned stellar.

Thunder forward Caron Butler compared Westbrook to a healthy Gilbert Arenas circa 2006 and 2007, when the former Washington point guard was a magician with the ball in his hands before injuries derailed his career.

“He has a lot of similarities,” Butler said. “But just his athleticism and his explosiveness, and he’s still developing. He’s still so young. He’s a helluva talent.”

But Butler also sees Westbrook’s growth.

“He’s doing a great job of facilitating and scoring and knowing the time when to do those things,” Butler said. “That just shows a lot of maturity on his part and a lot of unselfishness.”

Westbrook now gets to put two years of development on display against the Spurs in a rematch of the 2012 West Finals. The Thunder won the final four games of that series to knock off the Spurs in six games. But Parker, with averages of 21.5 points, on 48.1 percent shooting, and 3.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists, outperformed Westbrook, who averaged 18.2 points on 37.8 percent shooting, along with 5.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists.

Westbrook could benefit from Parker nursing a hamstring injury he sustained in San Antonio’s closeout Game 5 against Portland.

When he finally addressed Parker directly, Westbrook didn’t seem at all worried about the matchup.

“Just guard him. That’s it, man,” Westbrook said. “He doesn’t do anything special. You just got to guard him. That’s it.”