Russell Westbrook hurried the ball upcourt, 20 seconds into the game, and passed to Thabo Sefolosha for a dunk. Then he swiped a San Antonio pass and took the ball the distance himself for a layup. Westbrook got in Tony Parker's grill as the Spurs tried to run offense.
The game was not yet a minute old, and Westbrook had staked his claim. This Thunder-Spurs showdown was going to be his game. That usually means a Thunder victory, and so it did Thursday night, a 100-88 verdict that gives OKC control of its own destiny. Win out, and the Thunder is the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
Against a hobbled Parker, Westbrook was superb: 27 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, three steals. In the West finals last year, the series turned when Scotty Brooks moved Thabo over to guard Parker. No such switch was needed Thursday night.
And while a healthy Parker would make a big difference to the Spurs, a healthy Parker might be a contradiction in terms. Parker will be 31 by the time the West finals arrive; this is his 12th NBA season.
The Spurs have some young legs. Kawhi Leonard. Danny Green. Gary Neal. Tiago Splitter. But the Thunder has young stars. That's what has to worry San Antonio come playoff time. Same thing that felled the Spurs last spring could fell them again. The bottomless energy of Westbrook and Durant and Serge Ibaka. While Tim Duncan remains a venerable statesman, Manu Ginobili is chronically hobbled and Parker is getting there.
Parker played only 2:51 of the fourth quarter. “His leg was bothering him and he just couldn't go,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I wish he had told me that before the game. It looked like he had no energy to start the game.”
Of course, lots of guys would look that way matched against Westbrook on this night. Parker had to realize that this was not going to be his night when Westbrook arrived not just with those pogo-stick legs, but that reservoir of energy revved up.
“Russ did a great job on Parker,” Thabo said. “Everybody was into it. Everybody was read to play defense. When we play like that, this type of energy, I feel we've got a good shot.”
Here was the Thunder first quarter: zero turnovers, zero offensive rebounds allowed, a 29-18 lead and 12-of-22 shooting. Durant had just two points, but the Thunder was dominating.