“It’ll be better,” Westbrook promised of the Thunder’s defense. “It’ll be better.”
And that starts with Westbrook, the head of the snake.
On Monday, he allowed Paul to get going. The Thunder’s gameplan understandably starts with keeping Paul out of the paint. But he’s still a highly capable 3-point shooter, hitting 37 percent from deep this season. Westbrook initially played him like he was Rajon Rondo. And with far too much space, Paul hit a couple wide-open threes and rolled from there.
“He wasn’t doing nothing crazy,” Westbrook said, brushing it off after the game. “He hit eight threes. You can’t do much but contest. He hit some tough shots and we’ll live with that.”
Paul certainly hit a few contested ones. But he had plenty of uncontested looks, too. And so did the Clippers’ other sharpshooters.
This isn’t Memphis anymore, with Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince lining bricks off back rim. Los Angeles brought some snipers to OKC, with J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford all capable of getting hot on the wing.
Each hit an open three after a Thunder breakdown on Monday. Barnes’ came after Thabo Sefolosha overhelped on a harmless looking pick-and-roll. Redick’s came off an offensive rebound scramble in which three Thunder players were outhustled. And Crawford’s came as a motionless Westbrook spectated 10 feet away, his feet in quicksand and his mind clearly not on the type of tenacious defense he’s capable of playing.
“We have another level defensively,” Westbrook said. “So it’s something we’re not worried about.”
Agreed on the first count, not on the second. The Thunder is capable of terrorizing teams with its defense. But to compete for a title, it’s about time they start playing it on a consistent basis.