Russell Westbrook stared at San Antonio’s bench, smirked and then told the Spurs exactly what he was and was not going to do.
“I ain’t gon’ stop,” he said after swishing a late second-quarter 3-pointer, securing a momentum-shifting two-for-one scoring opportunity with 29.4 seconds showing.
“You know that. I’m gon’ keep going.”
Westbrook wasn’t kidding.
He was relentless.
With persistent attacks on the basket and pressure in the passing lanes, Westbrook led the Thunder to a 106-94 win over the Spurs, snapping San Antonio’s league- and franchise-best 19-game winning streak in what was a potential conference finals preview Thursday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Westbrook scored 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting and added six assists and four steals. In his 31 minutes, Westbrook supplied a steady stream of game-changing sequences and jaw-dropping highlights.
Right after splashing that gutsy transition 3-pointer, Westbrook capitalized on the additional possession he had created by taking a fast-break feed from Kevin Durant and converting a layup with 2.6 seconds remaining in the half. It trimmed an early 11-point Spurs lead to three at halftime.
“I thought Russell’s big 3 at the end of that second quarter was a big shot,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Prior to that bucket, Westbrook was just 4-for-10 from the field. He had missed four of his first six shots, and five of his six misses were from 11 feet and in.
Of course, to Westbrook it never does.
“I’m not going to stop regardless if I start 0-for-20; turn the ball over 10 times,” Westbrook said. “I’m going to keep coming. Keep coming. That’s my motto. That’s what I stick by.”
It’s a big reason why the Thunder keeps sticking it to the Spurs.
Oklahoma City swept the four-game season series with San Antonio and won for the 10th time in 12 tries against San Antonio.
The Spurs, however, still hold a three-game lead over the Thunder for first place in the Western Conference. With the Spurs having just six games remaining, that puts San Antonio’s magic number for homecourt advantage throughout the West Finals at 5, meaning any combination of Spurs wins or Thunder losses equaling five will secure the top spot for San Antonio.
But after another masterful performance against the mighty Spurs, it’s beginning to appear that the Thunder might not need homecourt advantage after all in a potential rematch of the 2012 Western Conference Finals.
On a night in which Durant struggled to the tune of 28 points on 26 shots, the Thunder still had too many difference-makers for the Spurs. It started with Westbrook but continued with another superb effort by Reggie Jackson, who came off the bench to pump in 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting with four rebounds and four assists, and also included Serge Ibaka, a game-changer on defense with his length and shot-blocking. Ibaka scored 11 points with a game-high 12 rebounds and three blocked shots.
“We just focus in more,” Westbrook said. “Obviously, when you play San Antonio you can’t be lackadaisical. As you see, we started the first half just kind of going through the motions and they scored points real quick. And I think we’ve been doing a great job the last couple of years just focusing in and being real particular on what we do on different players.”
San Antonio held out sixth man Manu Ginobili to rest, and without him the other two Spurs stars weren’t nearly enough to contend with all that the Thunder had in the cupboard. Tim Duncan was neutralized, as Kendrick Perkins returned from a 17-game absence to help hold the future Hall of Famer to 17 points on just 5-for-15 shooting. Spurs point guard Tony Parker, meanwhile, had a nightmare game, scoring six points on 3-for-10 shooting with just three assists against three turnovers.
The credit for Parker’s performance goes back to Westbrook and his renewed focus on playing both ends.
“The thing that’s underrated in Russell’s game is his leadership and his ability to defend,” Brooks said. “He’s an amazing scorer. He can put points on the board. He can get KD a lot of looks. But what he does, he leads and he defends at a high level, and that’s what really makes us a good basketball team.”
As the Spurs again saw, Westbrook’s relentless energy is every bit as pivotal as well.
Westbrook essentially put the Spurs away when he intercepted an inbounds pass Marco Belinelli intended for Patty Mills. After recovering the ball, Westbrook gathered his steps and soared in for a sensational reverse dunk. It brought the crowd to its feet and kept the Spurs from making a late rally.
“I haven’t dunked for the Thunder fans in a while,” Westbrook said. “So I thought I would do a little something tonight.”