Credit ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy for alerting viewers to the benching of Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook at the end of the third quarter, noting the tense exchange between coach Scott Brooks and Westbrook as he left the court.
“He (Brooks) told him to pass the ball, and Westbrook didn't respond,” Van Gundy said. “This happened at the end of the second quarter as well. He has to be open to the fact at the end of the quarter he has to make better plays.”
The ESPN game analysts then spent much of the fourth quarter debating whether Westbrook should re-enter the game.
Mark Jackson said he would have gone back to Westbrook midway through the fourth quarter for more shooting and rebounding. After the game, studio analyst Michael Wilbon said he supported Brooks' decision, noting Eric Maynor had no turnovers in 20 minutes while Westbrook had four turnovers.
Studio analyst Magic Johnson, a Hall of Fame guard, said Westbrook needed to shake off the benching and come back strong in Game 3.
“You've got to walk into the locker room, and you've got to high-five the reserves and tell them a great job. Forget everything. We got the victory. That's all that matters.”
Speaking on the FSOK postgame show, Thunder TV announcer Brian Davis agreed with Brooks' decision to stick with Maynor.
“Russell Westbrook is a third-year player in the NBA,” he said. “There are times when he needs to sit by the coach and watch. This is one of those cases.”
The game and studio analysts marveled at Kevin Durant's powerful dunk late in the first quarter that they credited with changing the game's momentum. ESPN replays captured Durant's amazing liftoff.
Van Gundy said: “This has to be the top play in the NBA all year. That is some elevation, and he gave Peja Stojakovic whiplash.”
Johnson called it “one of my top five dunks of all time in the playoffs.”
Studio host Stuart Scott said, “Kevin Durant got beastmode,” and Wilbon said it was “Blake Griffin nasty.”
*The commentators praised the Thunder for slowing Dirk Nowitzki, holding him to 29 points. Thunder TV game analyst Grant Long said Nick Collison was especially effective on Nowitzki. “He covered Dirk like a cheap blanket and forced him into taking difficult shot after difficult shot.”
*The three ESPN studio analysts all were way off on their “bold statements” on the pregame show. Magic predicted Westbrook would earn his second playoff triple-double, Jon Barry said Jason Kidd would get a triple-double and Wilbon said Stojakovic would score 18 points.
*ESPN noted that it was the first conference finals win for the Thunder franchise since the Seattle SuperSonics did it in 1996 with a team led by Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
*Although the Thunder has widely been praised for the Kendrick Perkins' trade, Jackson called it a bad trade for both teams, noting the Thunder missed Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. “I think it (the trade) is being exposed in this series so far,” he said in the first quarter.
*In the second quarter, Van Gundy credited the officials for calling a good game. “You got to love the way the game is being officiated. No flops. … Also no anger by the officials.”
*At halftime, Wilbon belittled the defenses of both teams in comparing it to the lower-scoring Bulls-Heat series. “That series is all about defense, and there is no defense in the first half.”