SAN ANTONIO — Russell Westbrook rose off the San Antonio hardwood so quickly that the only thing Tony Parker could do was lunge out wildly and look up helplessly.
The jump shot splashed through the net, and the Thunder led for the first time in the second half.
Not coincidentally, the Thunder point guard was locked in.
The Thunder was at its best Monday night when that was the case. Didn’t matter if it was Westbrook manning the position or if it was his backup, Reggie Jackson. When those guys were dominating, the Thunder was the better team, even with Serge Ibaka on the north side of the Red River.
But in the aftermath of the Spurs’ 122-105 victory in the opener of the Western Conference Finals, it became clear that the Thunder is going to need even more dominance from its point guards if it stands any chance of winning this series.
The Thunder won all four regular-season meetings against the Spurs, and in every game, point guard play was a key. Jackson had 23 points in the first game and 27 in the third game while Westbrook went for 31 points in the second meeting and 27 in the fourth.
And every bit as importantly, they kept Parker in check about as well as anyone could expect. He had a 37-point explosion in one of the games, but he also managed only six points in one of the other meetings.
But on Monday night, the Thunder didn’t get enough offense or defense out of its point guards.
Yes, Westbrook scored 25 and Jackson added 13, but they needed 32 shots to get those 38 points. Sure, they held Parker to 14 points, but he had 12 assists. That meant that he had a hand in more than a third of the Spurs’ baskets.
In Ibaka’s absence, Westbrook and Jackson have to be better.
Is that asking a lot?
But these two have shown that they can do it, even against a team as good as the Spurs. And they showed in spurts Monday night that they can kick this Thunder team into another gear.
Right before halftime with the Spurs threatening to really put their foot on the Thunder’s throat, Jackson scored a layup with an assist from Westbrook. Then after Jackson rebounded a San Antonio miss, he hit a pull-up jumper from 20 feet.