Between Games 5 and 6, facing media scrutiny and some lingering struggles, Russell Westbrook changed the way he was attacking the Grizzlies.
In the first five games of the series, he’d jacked up 38 3-pointers, settling too much, passing too little and playing into Memphis’ hands.
“Too many walk-up 3s off the screen and that’s what they wanted,” Westbrook admitted. “I just looked at film (and corrected it).”
In Games 6 and 7 — both blowout wins, capped by Saturday night’s 120-109 series-clincher — Westbrook stopped shooting threes, taking only four combined. And because of that, the Thunder started making more.
He went from inefficient chucker to dynamic table-setter, using his speed and athleticism to create the type of open looks Kevin Durant and the Thunder’s other role players found nonexistent earlier in the series.
“Russ was setting the plate,” Reggie Jackson said.
And his teammates were eating.
After making only 38 of its 133 3-pointers the first five games (28 percent), the Thunder made 18 of 40 (45 percent) in the final two. Westbrook assisted on eight off those 18 makes.
“If he plays like that things are going to open up for KD,” Caron Butler said. “And that’s exactly what happened.”
Especially on Saturday night.
Durant saved his best performance for the clincher, scoring 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting, the kind of explosive yet efficient line we’d come to expect during his first MVP season. He was in rhythm all night and perfect from behind the 3-point line — going 5-of-5 from deep after making only 4-of-39 over the past four games combined.
“The games before we shot a lot of walk-up 3s, deep ones,” Durant admitted. “But I think Russell set everybody up tonight and I think all the threes I hit were wide open and he set me up with all of them (four of the five).”
But the stars weren’t alone. Reggie Jackson rediscovered his 3-point stroke, making six of eight the final two games. And Caron Butler and Derek Fisher chipped in three more makes on Saturday night.
“Once Reggie, myself, Fish started making shots, the floor just opens up,” Butler said.
And the Thunder just look like a better, nearly indefensible team.
“All series, we’ve been shooting — sorry for my vernacular — we’ve been (expletive)-poor,” Jackson said. “We’ve been terrible. We know we’re capable of making shots, but unfortunately we missed good looks.”
But not on Saturday night. And because of that, the Thunder move on.